Game four of the Stanley Cup Final was played last night in Nashville Tn. with the Predators needing the win to avoid going down 3-1. For the Pittsburgh Penguins, it was win Game 3, and play for the Cup at home Wednesday. Inside Bridgestone Arena, it was bedlam and outside it was insane. Game two saw approximately 50,000 people in the streets of Nashville and the city was looking for a repeat. The atmosphere was intense and the fans were ready for a win.
Not too long after Game two, the hockey world was counting out the Nashville Predators in this series. They had a good reason as history showed that teams down 0-2 only win the Cup five percent of the time. The first two games saw the Pens score at will in about 10 total minutes. That was enough to take the 2-0 lead. There was also talk about the demise of Preds goalie Peka Rinne after giving up nine goals in those two games.
Game three saw the Preds get back to defense and they were the faster and better team. Of course, Rinne and the Preds had to weather the storm of the Pens scoring 2:46 into the game to make it 1-0. It was then that the Preds fan wondered if their goalie would fall apart. What would follow from the was 27 straight saves from Rinne and a defense that smothered the Pens. Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would be held without a shot on goal and the Preds speed and execution was just too much for Pens goalie Matt Murray in a 5-1 loss to Nashville. Still, it was a 2-1 Pens lead and there was much more work to be done if the Predators were to get back into this series.
Game four saw rain in Nashville for most of the morning and early afternoon. Then, the hockey God’s cleared the skies and got rid of the rain and Nashville was ready for the biggest game in franchise history. Dierks Bentley got things underway with the signing of the national anthem and the place was already filled with noise.
The first period saw both teams play great defense as shots on goal were hard to come by with the teams having just two late into the period. The Preds broke through first at the 14:41 mark when Calle Yankrok banged one home assisted by Craig Smith and Austin Watson. The celebration was short lived when Crosby found himself all alone in the open ice and got one past Rinner to tie the game at one a few minutes before the end of the first period. That would be the last time Rinne would allow a puck into the net. He would stop the next 23 shots, some of them in spectacular fashion. Some are saying that this performance by Rinne may have turned the series around with his stellar play.
The play of the young Preds continues to be one of the storylines in this series. Rookie Frederick Gaudreau scored the third goal of his career. All of them have come in these Finals and he is just the second player ever to accomplish that feat. Viktor Arvidsson has a motor that does not stop and he came through ten minutes after the rookie on a beauty of a play. The Preds got control of the puck and James Neal and Mike Fisher both made tremendous tip passes to set up Arvidsson to make it 3-1 Nashville.
The dominating play from the Preds continued on as the defense just denied the Pens any chance of being a threat. P.K. Subban just kept getting in the head of Crosby and the speed and agility of Nashville’s defense was just too much for the Pens. Late in the third, Pittsburgh goalie made his way to the bench to give his team the extra skater. What they got from that was a long shot from the stick of Filip Forsberg that saw the left side of the net for a 4-1 Nashville lead. The game was now over and it was all about killing the clock now. When it was all over, it was the Predators looking like the better team.
There cannot be enough praise for the performance of Rinne who made some the best saves you have seen in recent memory. He is playing with a confidence that translates into a Stanley Cup. He is deflating the confidence of the Pens stars and his defense is performing at a high level. The ability of the defense to smother and block shots, to have the speed to get back and poke the puck away is playing with Pittsburgh.
Game five is Thursday night in Pittsburgh and you best believe their fans will be ready. They have been here and done this before and they know they cannot afford to lose to this team that appears to have all the momentum right now. They are the defending champs and have two of the best players in the history of the game. They know how to win the big games and look to take the momentum back from Nashville. If they cannot beat the Preds Thursday night the atmosphere in Nashville on Sunday will be unlike any hockey has ever seen. A win for the Preds brings them back home to a city so hungry for a title you can hear the hunger pains across the country.
Two more wins for Nashville will bring the first Stanley Cup to this franchise and city. If Rinne can put together two more games like he has had the last two, Nashville will hoist the Cup here on Sunday night. It’s a long way from over, so strap on your seatbelts, sit back and enjoy this ride. Two more wins to Lord Stanley’s Cup.