Live at Game 4: Predators 4, Penguins 1 final
The Penguins watched their two-game lead in the Stanley Cup Final disappear into a tied series in Nashville, where the Predators prevailed, 5-1, in Game 3 and 4-1 in Game 4 on Monday.
In the latest matchup, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne made several great stops during a 23-save performance. Matt Murray finished with 22 saves and dealt with far too much activity in his end.
Desperate to get back in the game, coach Mike Sullivan pulled his goalie with more than three minutes left, and Filip Forsberg immediately capitalized with a long-distance clincher.
The Penguins set aside caution and prioritized speed up the ice with around 10 minutes left in regulation, a plan that allowed Nashville to generate a few more Grade-A scoring chances. But Matt Murray kept the Penguins' deficit at two goals with a few critical stops.
At the other end of the ice, Pekka Rinne refused to unravel with the Predators up and minutes away from tying the series at two games apiece.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said in the hours ahead of Game 4 on Monday morning that his skaters needed to exploit Nashville's aggressive, risky play with opportunistic rushes the other way. He warned that anything less than sound puck management and timely counterstrikes might mean trouble for the Penguins, whose pace of play simply failed to overwhelm the Predators through three games in the Stanley Cup Final.
Through two periods of Game 4, the Penguins found themselves trailing largely because they lacked the sharpness to avoid mistakes and the speed to cover up their breakdowns.
Penguins, Predators both getting plenty of looks at the net front. In theory, that'd favor the Pens. But theory is just that. pic.twitter.com/1fHs804Dkh— Bill West (@BWest_Trib) June 6, 2017
A giveaway by the Penguins at the offensive blueline led to a goal off the rush by Nashville's Viktor Arvidsson, who put the Predators up, 3-1, with six minutes and 52 seconds left in the second period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Ian Cole and Evgeni Malkin lost a puck battle to Mike Fisher and James Neal at the blueline, and Arvidsson went racing up the ice with only Justin Schultz threatening to stop him.
Great diving play by Fisher to spring Arvidsson's breakaway goal pic.twitter.com/mZLfxiK1YO— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) June 6, 2017
What at first looked like a brilliant blocker-hand save by Matt Murray on a wraparound actually qualified as a goal for Frederick Gaudreau — it just took replay officials several seconds of ongoing play to determine the puck crossed the line and finally sound the horn.
Gaudreau's goal gave Nashville a 2-1 lead three minutes and 45 seconds into the second period.
Murray reached back with his right arm to seemingly stop Gaudreau at the right post, and the puck kicked out to allow play to continue. Confusion briefly set in for both teams when the horn then sounded with the puck sliding around in the neutral zone.
Gaudreau goal pic.twitter.com/0uodIBAGCU— steph (@myregularface) June 6, 2017
Sixteen seconds before Murray's deceiving semi-save on Gaudreau, Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne made a no-doubt stop on Chris Kunitz's breakaway.
Rinne's save on Kunitz, the goalie's 10th of the night, presumably served as another confidence-booster and repudiation of the awful start to the series.
He made even more exciting stops midway through the period with a wild scramble.
Rinne save just before the goal pic.twitter.com/aXxX8iSQGp— steph (@myregularface) June 6, 2017
Sweet H*ck that goalmouth scramble: pic.twitter.com/3EgGIEC4B9— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) June 6, 2017
True to their playoff-long trend, the Penguins followed a poor performance — in this case, a 5-1 loss in Game 3 — with a strong start to their next outing, Monday's Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena. They held a 16-14 edge in shot attempts and generated several Grade-A looks at Nashville's net.
Just one minute and six seconds after they fell behind in the first period, their captain answered with a game-tying goal on a breakaway after Nashville somehow lost track of the star center.
Sidney Crosby buried the goal after he snuck in behind the Predators' defense and beat Pekka Rinne with a deke to his backhand. It was his first tally in a Stanley Cup Final game since Game 4 in 2009.
NSH forgot about Crosby who breaks in alone and shows tremendous patience before finishing. pic.twitter.com/XECdwuAn79— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 6, 2017
The Penguins tried to use their coach's challenge magic to take another key goal off the scoreboard, but officials ruled Craig Smith did not interfere with Matt Murray on Calle Jarnkrok's rebound putback 14 minutes and 51 seconds into the first period.
Sullivan, with help from video coach Andy Saucier, successfully challenged a goal by Nashville and received a call reversal in Game 1 when Filip Forsberg went offside. And the Sullivan-Saucier combo also came through at a key moment in Game 6 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final with an offsides challenge that took a Jonathan Drouin goal off the board.
Fans of fun, free-flowing hockey did not see much worth celebrating in the opening minutes of Game 4. They waited five minutes before either team registered a shot on goal — Ian Cole did the honors with a long-range wrist shot. Meanwhile...
There were five icings -- and an offside! -- before the first shot on goal in Game 4. Only one way for things to go from here.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 6, 2017
A lively, physical affair. pic.twitter.com/OOucxUzaJJ— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 6, 2017
Matt Murray waited even longer for the first puck to come his way. But the first offering from the Predators, which happened seven minutes into the period, sufficed as a strong first test.
Murray makes a nice save on a wide open Forsberg attempt. pic.twitter.com/IfLPdW2J8T— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) June 6, 2017
Nick Bonino, ailing since Game 2 when he blocked a slap shot with his left leg, took the ice for pregame warm-ups but promptly left. Scott Wilson and Oskar Sundqvist walked into the arena during warm-ups in suits. The process of elimination suddenly pointed to winger Josh Archibald as the next man up for the Penguins as they pieced together a lineup for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday at Bridgestone Arena.
Archibald indeed got the nod for the fourth-line spot over Wilson. Carl Hagelin remained in after playing in Game 3 and serving as a healthy scratch in Game 1 and 2.
The Penguins are trying to bounce back from a decisive 5-1 loss in Game 3 to take a 3-1 lead in the series heading back home for Game 5 on Thursday night.
The Penguins have given up five goals in a game four times this postseason. The previous three times, they rebounded to win the next game.
"I think we have a lot of competitors in here," Cullen said. "Honestly, we've got a lot of guys who know how to rise to the occasion when stakes are high. It's something that served us well last season in the playoffs and it's something that has served us well to this point. I think we all have a lot of confidence that we're going to respond the right way."
One aspect of the series Nashville continues to control is special teams play. The Predators converted four of their 10 power play opportunities through three games and held the Penguins to one power-play goal in 13 chances. Coach Peter Laviolette questioned how long the Predators can realistically keep the Penguins' star-laden first unit quiet while allowing multiple man-advantage opportunities a game, but he commended his team for its effectiveness.
"I think the penalty kill has done a good job just with execution, reading plays," Laviolette said. "They're a difficult group to defend because there's a lot of skill, especially on that first unit. Makes it difficult. I think our guys have done a good job. Power play is about the same thing, execution. I think our guys have done a good job at that, getting up through the neutral zone, getting up into play in the offensive zone, and finding the right opportunities."
Laviolette also seemed to suggest that if the Penguins' stars, specifically Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, settle into rhythms in Game 4, the media deserves some degree of credit. Crosby and Malkin combined for zero shots on goal in Game 3.
"Because you guys have beat the drum on it enough, they're probably going to look to shoot the puck from all over tonight," Laviolette said. "Our best interest would be to expect a lot of looks and great plays from them, a plethora of shots, as well.
"There's being a lot made of (no shots from Crosby and Malkin in Game 3). If you go back and look, try to figure out the amount of plays that they figured into that created scoring chances. They're both excellent passers, they're both capable of scoring goals obviously, too. Just because they didn't register a shot on net, we shouldn't deem them ineffective in Game 3."