Photo courtesy: Ken Lund
Welcome to Nashville, home of NHL’s loudest and wildest rink.
"Smashsville" put the Penguins and the NHL on notice on Saturday. Riding the rowdy crowd, the Pekka Rinne-led Predators found their playoff groove again, with a decisive 5-1 Game 3 victory over the Penguins. Rinne made 27 saves and looked like his normal self with clutch stops and momentum-stuffing saves. Meanwhile, Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had a horrendous showing after taking a grand total of zero shots on goal combined—the first time in 143 playoff games that this has occurred for the pair. Despite scoring first, the Penguins gave up three goals in the second period, two within 43 seconds. Now we look forward to Game 4.
The 7th man is a real difference-maker
The Preds played like a different team being back home in Nashville. Rinne looked comfortable in the net after struggling the first two games. Meanwhile, the Nashville defense finally arose to the occasion, shutting down the Penguins all night long. Nashville kicked up the energy by going all out for the first ever Stanley Cup Final game in the city. Tens of thousands of fans filled the streets from early morning to support the home team, and the excitement trickled into the arena as fans filled the seats an hour and half before the start. The team fed of that energy and played possessed, really getting after the Penguins. Pittsburgh looked almost-fearful from the start of Game 3 and never properly recovered—especially Matt Murray, who seemed to really feel the pressure and hear the noise from the fans. Nashville will need to keep that home momentum to even the series before heading back to Pittsburgh.
Jake Guentzel is carrying the Penguins
The Penguins don’t seem to be playing like a team in the Stanley Cup Final. Even though they possess a 2-1 series lead, the Penguins have looked outmatched all three games thus far. Yet, with a win in Game 4, this series might be over, and that can almost all be a testament to the outstanding play of Jake Guentzel. Guentzel has dominated his ice time. In Game 3, Guentzel again made an impact, opening the scoring to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead early in the first period. Guentzel looks speedy on the ice against the Predators, and his confidence is gaining with every passing game. With Crosby and Malkin having an average series, the Penguins will need to continue riding on Guentzel to find some scoring.
Penguins need a Crosby Sighting
Sidney Crosby, so far, looks like a shell of his MVP self, and the Penguins’ offense is struggling as a consequence. This team is stacked with talent, but they rely heavily on the play of their leader. In Game 3, Crosby took zero shots on goal, three shots, and won 57% of his faceoffs. Crosby even faced a critical penalty that helped the Preds get another goal, virtually sealing their victory. Crosby has managed three assists, but no goals yet in the series. He needs to be aggressive and help the first unit get to a better start and allow the Penguins to take control of the series.
Game 4 Prediction: Predators 4, Penguins 3