The visitors struck first, but on this night, that just wasn’t going to fly.
Five different goal-scorers converted for the Nashville Predators as they won their first Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history with a 5-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Three. The result cuts Pittsburgh’s series lead in half, pulling Nashville to within one game of tying the Final after a blowout win at Bridgestone Arena.
It was a complete effort from the Preds, similar to the ones they’ve shown in Games One and Two of the final, minus the defensive lapses that cost Nashville in Pittsburgh. After giving up the first one on Saturday, it was all Predators.
“I thought we played some really good hockey in Pittsburgh for the first two games and didn’t get the bounces that we wanted,” Preds defenseman P.K. Subban said. “We have to give them credit because they found ways to win games. For us falling back 1-0, I thought we did a good job of sticking to the plan. We were playing great from the start, and we did a really good job of battling back into this game. I thought we played a full 60 minutes today.”
A raucous Nashville crowd rose to ear-splitting levels to start the game, but it was the visitors who took advantage early. Jake Guentzel scored his fourth goal of the series just 2:46 into Game Three to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.
But then, the second period began. Nashville tallied on three occasions in the middle frame, first courtesy of Roman Josi with a strike on the power play to even the score. Just 42 seconds later, it was Frederick Gaudreau who wristed a shot past the glove of Matt Murray to give the Preds their first lead of the night, and before the stanza was out, it was the former Penguin, James Neal, who poked a puck home with 22 seconds remaining for a two-goal advantage after two periods.
Craig Smith made it 4-1 on a breakaway when he deposited his first of the playoffs, and Mattias Ekholm joined in on the party with his first, a power-play goal to finish out the scoring, the 18th and 19th players to convert for the Predators in the postseason.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne bounced back in Game Three, stopping 27 Pittsburgh shots through 60 minutes, including a marvelous save in the second period on a rebound chance in the slot. That gave another boost to the Nashville crowd after they had already been sent into a frenzy with a 2-0 lead, and after Neal made it 3-1, it was all but sealed.
“It was the same Pekka that everyone’s been talking about for a long time now,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Our belief in him never waivers in this room, and he was unbelievable. That was a huge save in the second that could have been a momentum change. Even that breakaway at the end, the game is 5-1 with a couple of minutes left and he makes another big save. He was lights out again for us.”
Never a Doubt:
Subban was rather confident his club would return home for a smashing success in Game Three after falling behind 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.
He just had that feeling.
Nashville couldn’t have shone brighter as they hosted their first Cup Final game in franchise history, treating themselves and their fans to a 5-1 victory over Pittsburgh, a game couldn’t have gone much better for a club hosting an event never before seen in their city.
It started in warmups with thousands of fans already in the building, waving their rally towels and chanting. In warmups.
“With 15,000 people cheering us on in warm ups… the atmosphere is unbelievable,” Ellis said. “Before the game during the intros, they were doing their thing and it’s an incredible feeling playing in front of the fans.”
From there – with the exception of an early blemish – the Preds rolled in their home barn to a lopsided victory, including the 11th different game-winning goal scorer in Gaudreau, and a pair of firsts, with Smith and Ekholm becoming the 18th and 19th Nashville goal scorers of the playoffs.
Then, there was Rinne, the backbone Head Coach Peter Laviolette and the Preds know he always will be.
“There’s never been a doubt in him at all, whatsoever,” Ekholm said. “Just the way he played tonight was, what a big way to come back. I don’t think he’s been bad at all this series, I just think we haven’t helped him out a lot. Tonight, I thought we got no shots from their top guys, kept them to the outside and limit their quality chances. We know when he sees the puck and there are no tips or rebounds, he’s going to save them all.”
Game Three wasn’t going to bring Nashville even with the Penguins – they’ll need another win on Monday to do that – but it’s a great start.
“[We have] a belief in each other that we can win a hockey game if we need to win a hockey game,” Neal said. “I think coming home, obviously wasn’t the start we were looking for with going down two games in Pittsburgh, but it’s a place we feel confident in coming home. We got the job done. It’s a great win for our team. We’ll build off that.”
Forwards Harry Zolnierczyk and P.A. Parenteau entered the Nashville lineup for Game Three in favor of Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler.
Frederick Gaudreau became the 11th Preds player to score a game-winning goal in these playoffs, making Nashville the eighth team with 11 different game-winning goal scorers in postseason since 1963, with the previous seven winning the Stanley Cup.
Roman Josi equaled a franchise record set earlier in the postseason by P.K. Subban, when he registered the second-ever, three-point game by a defenseman in the playoffs.
Game Four of the Stanley Cup Final comes Monday night in Nashville before the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Gave Five on Thursday evening in the Steel City.