With two games down in the Stanley Cup finals that stage shifted from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Nashville, Tennessee for the latest tangle between the Penguins and the Predators.
With the Penguins holding a 2-0 lead after winning at home, Pittsburgh was in a great spot to lock up back-to-back championships. But now they had to travel to one of the loudest arenas in the NHL to win the next one. And the Predators hockey team would not be the only obstacle that Pittsburgh would have to overcome. Fans in Nashville have become rabid during this Cup chase, and with this being the first finals game in Bridgestone, the place would be insane.
Pittsburgh 2-0 series lead can be looked at a few ways. They could be lucky to be up 2-0, or they did what they should have done. Home teams are expecting to win the first two games.
The Penguins, probably, are on the luck side in this discussion. Pittsburgh hasn’t played particularly well for long stretches. This is noted by the fact that in game one they didn’t have a shot on goal for 37 minutes.
Their offense has been very stagnant at times and Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel have looked visibly frustrated. Would Game 3 be a cure for these troubles?
Furthermore, we cannot forget the injury bug which just grabbed another Penguin as Nick Bonino may be done for the playoffs according to some reports.
From a Nashville perspective, they could be devastated to be down 2-0. They outplayed the champs in both games, and despite this, they do not have a win.
Their hope in this series though is that they have dictated the style of play for most of the series. Now they hope to ride the wave of emotion that was in the atmosphere and get back into the series with a win.
A big area of concern for Nashville is the play of their star net-minder Pekka Renne. He has been awful this series and seems to be unable to beat the Penguins. So much so are his troubles that there was noise that backup Juuse Saros might get the start in Game 3.
Nashville though would start Renne opposite of Matt Murray.
Bridgestone was indeed rocking at the outset of the game, but Pittsburgh would do what it needed to try to battle through.
The first goal of the game would do wonders in taking the crowd out of this affair. Jake Guentzel would continue his incredible playoff run by scoring his 13th goal of the playoffs just a few minutes into the 1st period.
The play would start with Guentzel circling in the corner and looking for Crosby out near the top of the circle.
A sort of lazy pass trickled to Crosby who slipped it to Ian Cole at the point.
Cole fired a textbook low show that Renne saved, but the rebound came free to Guentzel who has beelined to the net. With his stick free, he was able to jam the puck under the pads and give Pittsburgh the lead.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 4, 2017
Pittsburgh would control the action in the 1st period but only manage the 1-0 lead.
Noted again was the power play struggles as the had two chance in the 1st period to go up 2-0 and failed to convert on either.
Heck, the best chance on these powerplays came for Nashville as Murray had to stop Arvidsson on a two on one with just about seven minutes left in the 1st period.
Renne was looking shaky, and Pittsburgh had an opportunity to deliver a knockout punch and just could not deliver one.
Things would start to go the other way for Pittsburgh early in the 2nd as Justin Schultz would head to the box for holding.
Schultz had to be better in getting the puck away from the attacking Nashville player. If he can poke the puck further away, then the need for the slight hold would not have been needed.
Pittsburgh was not able to score on their power plays, but Nashville took full advantage with their chance.
Roman Josi received a pass and right from about the top of the circle was able to fire a slap shot that beat Murray.
What initially looked like laser shot through glanced off the glove of Carter Rowney and into the net. Nashville was right back into the game at 1-1.
Not even 40 seconds later Nashville would send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy.
Frederick Gaudreau would fire a wrist shot past Murray with ease and give the Predators the lead in this game
The play happened as first he poked the puck past Trevor Dailey and walked in one one one against Ian Cole. Using Cole as a screen his wrist shot beat Matt Murray over the glove.
A little screen but Murray being so positionally stable, this is usually a save that he makes without much trouble.
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) June 4, 2017
All of a sudden Pittsburgh is down 2-1. Fortunes sure can change in an instant.
When a goalie makes a big save that can change a game and sometimes even a series, the announcers can’t stop talking about it enough, and that happened in this game.
Just a moment after the 2nd Nashville goal, Kessel came flying down the wing. He snapped a huge shot off but Renne was able to deny him, and the Predators defense were able to clear the rebound.
At the time it felt that if the Pens cashed in there, all the Predators momentum would have again faded. Once again, a chance to deliver a timely punch to the other team was missed by the Penguins.
And just like always, you miss an opportunity to put someone away, and it comes back to bite you.
With just under 30 seconds left in the 2nd, James Neal would bang home some loose mail to make it 3-1 Preds.
It was a strange goal as Arvidsson had the puck behind the net with Brian Doumolin on him. He made a play that deflected off Doumolin and then off the back of the net then went out front to Neal.
Neal shot it just as it hit the ice and placed it off Murray’s glove and into the net. It was that kind of night for the Pens.
— NHL (@NHL) June 4, 2017
Into the 3rd the Penguins would not mount any comeback. In fact, Renne seemed to find his form, and the Predators would tack on two more goals.
In another case of bad puck luck, Chris Kunitz would have the puck deflect of Kessel’s skate and send Craig Smith in on a clean breakaway for the 4-1 lead.
Craig Smith goal pic.twitter.com/EJrjGM6JYs
— steph (@myregularface) June 4, 2017
Goal five for the Preds would come courtesy of the power play. Mattias Ekholm would just walk down the slot and crank a slap shot past Murray for the meaningless fifth goal.
— Call Out News (@calloutnews) June 4, 2017
Game over, 5-1 Predators and they get back into the series with a home ice win.
1. Give Peter Laviolette some credit for the way he just stuck with Renne in this on. Very opposite to what Mike Sullivan did with Marc Andre Fleury. Renne was great in this game, and it’s scary that he might be back on track for the series
2. In the Ottawa series, the Penguins took time to adjust to the way the other team was playing them, and a similar thing looks to be happening in this series. The Predators are just playing tough and smart defense and it is frustrating the Penguins players. The quotes from a guy like Malkin are things that I have never read before from Pittsburgh players. It is slightly concerning. Just an example below of what Malkin said.
“It’s the first time in my career we can’t score like that,” Evgeni Malkin said. “So many chances. We’re not shooting the puck. They pressure us. First power play, we moved the puck so well, but still no shots.”
“We need to change something. I don’t know. If we score a couple goals, it’s so much easier to play. It’s not working. We need change. Maybe players. I don’t know. It’s tough to say right now. But I know we played bad on the power play.”
“I’m not having room,” Malkin said. “I have puck, like, one second. I try my best. We all try our best. They play very well. We need to change something. I don’t know. It’s hard to say right now.”
That doesn’t sound good!
3. Pittsburgh looked like a beaten and tired team and has for much of these finals. In that view its a blessing to be up 2-1. But something has to give. Maybe it’s a day off, a strategy change but the way these games are going Nashville has a real chance. Sullivan and the Pens have pushed all the right buttons for two years now, so no reason to think otherwise in this spot.
4. For much of this game, it looked like Crosby was not even on the ice. Even to the point of wondering if he was hurt. And you see the Malkin frustration above. It was stunning to see that these two guys didn’t have a shot in a game for I think the 3rd time ever in their careers. Just and astonishing stat.
5. Murray looked human, Renne was unreal. Every series goal-tending is so critical, so let’s hope that Renne falls off and just doesn’t go superhuman over the next four games. In fact it’s about time for a Pens goaltender to play out of his head and steal a game. Could it be time for a MAF start?