Home-ice advantage is alive and well.
Frederick Gaudreau and Pekka Rinne starred again, and the Nashville Predators defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 4-1 final in Game Four to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece. The victory gives the Preds two wins on home ice and sends them back to Pittsburgh with a chance to take their first-ever lead in a Stanley Cup Final series.
A two-goal second period, combined with the effort from their netminder drove Nashville to a gutsy win that was capped when Filip Forsberg flung a puck down ice into an empty net. It was a jubilant conclusion to a two-game sweep of Games Three and Four at Bridgestone Arena in an atmosphere that has finally been showcased around the world.
And the Predators gave their fans every reason to cheer.
“It’s a good feeling around here,” Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “For the most part, we had a strong game. [Rinne] was there when we needed him; he was unbelievable again tonight… We’ve made it a series, and we still have to win one [on the road].”
For the second time in the series, it was Nashville who beat the opposing goaltender first with Calle Jarnkrok jamming a loose puck past the outstretched pad of Matt Murray for a 1-0 lead in the opening period. Penguins Captain Sidney Crosby converted on a breakaway before the frame was out to even the score, but in the second stanza, Nashville’s netminder took over.
After a magnificent performance in Game Three, Pekka Rinne made his best save of the series when, after a scramble in front, he dove across the net mouth, and with some help from Roman Josi, robbed Pittsburgh of a sure goal. It appeared Murray had made an equally impressive stop at the other end of the ice moments earlier on Frederick Gaudreau with a stick save on the goal line – until everyone got a look at the replay. Gaudreau’s stuff attempt worked, just barely entering the cage for a 2-1 lead.
Then, on a desperation dive to shovel the puck ahead, Preds Captain Mike Fisher – on his 37th birthday – sprung Viktor Arvidsson on a breakaway, and the Swede deposited the puck for a two-goal advantage after 40 minutes.
Rinne and his teammates held Pittsburgh off in the third until Forsberg could cap it off, with the goaltender finishing with 23-save performance, arguably one of his best of the postseason.
“That’s Peks,” Ellis said. “He was amazing again today and when they had their chances, when our system broke down, Peks was there for us. He’s been there all playoffs – all year and he’s unbelievable.”
Now it’s back to Pittsburgh for Game Five on Thursday with an opportunity to put the Penguins on the brink. And for a moment, it was quite a birthday present for the captain.
“That’s all I wanted for my birthday – best gift I could get today for sure,” Fisher said. “Guys played unbelievable. I’m not going to enjoy it for too long because we got to get back to work. We know how much work we have ahead of us.”
Smashville’s Finest: Peks and Freddie Hockey:
It’s not often an NHL building becomes just as loud following a stop by the hometown goaltender as it does for a goal from the locals. But most NHL fanbases don’t have the pleasure of watching Pekka Rinne in their home barn.
Rinne was stellar once more in Game Four, making timely saves to keep his team in the game, exactly what the Preds have come to expect from the man who has been described as the backbone of the franchise.
“He’s everyone’s favorite player, including in this room,” Nashville forward Craig Smith said of Rinne. “We love him, he’s a fantastic person and an unbelievable hockey player… Everybody on the bench is doing the same things the fans are because we’re all in awe. He’s been fantastic and the fans have been excellent with the players. They want it as bad as we do, and they want us to do well and we’re lucky to have them.”
On the offensive side of the puck, what more can be said about Frederick Gaudreau? The undrafted 24-year-old forward leads the Predators with three goals in the Stanley Cup Final, the first three goals of his NHL career. In fact, Gaudreau became one of two players in NHL history to score their first three career goals in the Stanley Cup Final (John Harms, 1944 Chicago).
Gaudreau, who doesn’t even have his own locker stall in the Nashville locker room – but rather a chair and a small desk due to space constraints – leads the Preds in goals during the Final, embracing the moment night after night when it matters most.
“Clearly the stage is not too big for him,” Captain Mike Fisher said of Gaudreau. “It’s been unbelievable for us, the way he’s come, he’s been so good. Timely goals, composed. You know, he definitely belongs. He’s been a huge part of our success.”
But as for a new spot in the room? Not at this rate.
“With the way he’s playing right now, we’ll keep him right there,” forward Austin Watson said.
“I stay out of that stuff,” Laviolette said, wryly. “It’s working for him.”
Calle Jarnkrok now has five points (1g-4a) in his last five games.
After going pointless through three rounds, Captain Mike Fisher now has four assists in the Stanley Cup Final.
Game Five between the Predators and Penguins will take place Thursday night at 7 p.m. (CT) in Pittsburgh before the final game of the 2017 postseason in Nashville on Sunday evening.
Tickets are now available to a Game Five viewing party inside Bridgestone Arena for a donation to the Predators Foundation. C for more information.