Stanley Cup Final: Predators answer P.K. Subban's guarantee, rout Penguins in Game 3

Stanley Cup Final: Predators answer P.K. Subban's guarantee, rout Penguins in Game 3


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators are very hard to beat on their own ice this postseason, and now they have added their biggest piece of franchise history yet.

A victory in the Stanley Cup Final.

The embattled Rinne not only started, he made 27 saves. Roman Josi and Frederick Gaudreau scored 42 seconds apart in the second period, and the Predators beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 Saturday night to pull within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The Predators capped the biggest party in Nashville history with a victory that gave thousands of fans inside and outside of the arena reason to celebrate with even country star Keith Urban and wife, actress Nicole Kidman, high-fiving.

And credit Rinne for coming through with a very stingy performance and improving to 8-1 in Nashville this postseason.

The Predators call the 6-foot-5 Finn their backbone, yet critics wanted him benched after looking so shaky in the first two games in Pittsburgh giving up eight goals on just 36 shots. Coach Peter Laviolette benched him in the third period of Game 2 when Rinne gave up three goals in the first 3:28 of a 4-1 loss.

Josi also had two assists. James Neal, Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm also scored for Nashville as the Predators worked out some frustration against the Pens.

"Like our team has done the whole playoffs against Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, we showed really good composure," said Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, who had predicted a win in Game 3. "We're going to take that into the next game."

Game 4 is Monday night.

"I thought we gave them a couple of freebies where we didn't force them to have to work for it and that's an area we've got to be better moving forward," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're disappointed we didn't get the result, but we also understand that this is a series. Our guys, they've been through this. They can draw on their experience. We're not going to let this certainly get us down. We're going to learn from it, move by it and get ready for the next game."

Jake Guentzel scored his 13th goal this postseason and fourth of this series for Pittsburgh and now is one off Dino Ciccarelli's rookie record of 14 in 1981 for Minnesota. Guentzel, already with two game-winning goals in the series, put the Penguins up 1-0 on their second shot with a wrister off a rebound of Ian Cole that beat Rinne just 2:46 into the game.

Rinne stopped the next 26 shots for the victory and the party continued into the night.

Laviolette stuck with Rinne after lots of questions about his goalie, though he did sit veterans Cody McLeod and Vern Fiddler to get more speed with Harry Zolnierczyk and P.A. Parenteau. Pittsburgh forward Carl Hagelin played for the first time with center Nick Bonino out after taking a Subban slap shot off his left foot in Game 2 that left him on crutches and in a walking boot.

Matt Murray extended his scoreless streak to 72:54 with the Pittsburgh goalie looking ready to notch his 21st playoff win. Then he gave up five goals in the span of 15 shots.

The Predators got it started with a three-goal flurry in the second.

Josi scored his sixth goal off a slap shot at 5:51, tying it at 1-1 and finally giving nervous fans something to enjoy. Then Gaudreau, who scored his first career NHL goal in Game 1, scored 42 seconds later to put Nashville ahead with his wrister from the high slot, taking advantage of a screen by Penguins defenseman Ian Cole to beat Murray glove-side.

Just after that go-ahead goal, the Penguins had a rush on Rinne, and the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist made back-to-back big saves. First, he stopped Phil Kessel's wrister from the right circle. The rebound bounced back into the slot, and Rinne made a save on Chris Kunitz with an assist from Subban sliding over to help.

Neal made it 3-1 with 22.6 seconds left in the second, banking the puck off Murray's left arm for his first goal in the series and sixth of the playoffs. Smith's goal on a breakaway at 4:54 was his first of the playoffs, and Ekholm padded the lead with a power-play goal with 6:50 left.

"We played some good hockey in those first two games, just a couple little breakdowns and they jumped all over us and it was in the back of the net," Neal said. "It was a good job of limiting that tonight."

As for Rinne, Neal added: "We felt we left him out to dry a few times in the last game. I thought we did a better job tonight."

Smith is the 18th different Nashville player to score a goal this postseason. ... The Penguins went 0 of 3 on the power play and now are 1 of 13 in this series. ... With an assist, Sidney Crosby now has 160 career playoff points (56 goals, 104 assists) and tied Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe, Bobby Smith and Al MacInnis for 20th all-time.

Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

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Robert Hagg finds himself the odd man out vs. Rangers

Rookie Robert Hagg will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career following his performance Tuesday in Detroit, where the defenseman played just 12:39 and finished with a minus-2 rating, including just four shifts and 2:28 during the Flyers' third-period comeback.

Hagg missed four games with a lower-body injury, and when he returned he played on the left side, paired with Radko Gudas. For most of the second half of the season, Hagg has played the right side with Andrew MacDonald as the team’s second pairing.

“It’s not always about the individual,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “The pair (Hagg and Gudas) didn’t have easy chemistry there. We ended up in some situations with and against the speed and ended up with some bad gaps. The pair and combination wasn’t as effective as we needed it to be.”

Lyon in the crease
If Hakstol wanted to be a very unconventional think-outside-the-box coach, he would start Petr Mrazek for a period and then bring in Alex Lyon for the remaining two periods and beyond.

Lyon will start tonight’s game against the Rangers, the same team he earned his first career win against after replacing Michal Neuvirth following the first period. 

Some of Lyon’s best work this season has been coming in cold off the bench. He owns a .970 save percentage in games he has entered in relief, and a pedestrian .890 save percentage in five games he has started.

“It’s not just based on one performance, it never is,” Hakstol said. “ It’s always based on situation and a player’s body of work. Alex’s body of work has been good. He came in the other night and did an excellent job and that’s part of the decision.”

Shorthanded shortcomings
The Red Wings scored the tenth shorthanded goal against the Flyers Tuesday, matching the Colorado Avalanche for the most 5-on-4 goals allowed this season. 

This season, the Flyers are 4-4-2 in games in which they’ve given up a shorthanded goal, but more importantly, many of those goals have been momentum killers — the difference between tying a game or facing a two-goal deficit.

In the Flyers' 5-1 loss to the Rangers on Jan. 16, New York forward Paul Carey scored shorthanded with ten seconds remaining in the first period that extended the Rangers lead to 3-1, and took away any hope for a Flyers' comeback.    

“The Rangers are going to come with the kitchen sink on their penalty kill and they’re playing without a lot of pressure,” Hakstol said. “At times, you’re going to see two, three and four guys on their PK come up the ice offensively, so we’re going to have to do a very good job of that tonight.” 

Much of the blame can be attributed to the power play’s 1-3-1 setup — Shayne Gostisbehere serving as the only player on the point with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek in the circles, Sean Couturier in the high slot and Wayne Simmonds down low.

When a turnover or giveaway is committed between the circles and the blue line, typically only Gostisbehere or the player taking his spot at the point is the only player back to defend, leaving the Flyers wide open for a two-on-one shorthanded chance against.   

“We starting off taking a chance with one defenseman out there,” Gostisbehere said. “That’s just the name of the game. I don’t think there’s too many power play units with two D out there right now. I think for us, it’s staying within ourselves and keeping it simple.”

Crosby's highlight-reel goal sparks Penguins' rally

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Crosby's highlight-reel goal sparks Penguins' rally

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby ignited a rally with a highlight-reel goal and became the third active player with 700 career assists in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night.

Crosby's picked up his 24th goal of the season when he knocked a pass from Jake Guentzel out of the air, deflected it toward the front of his stick and smacked it by Carey Price to tie it at 3 late in the second period.

Derick Brassard put the Penguins in front to stay, beating Price early in the third period as Pittsburgh avoided dropping both games of a back-to-back against also-rans Montreal and the New York Islanders.

Guentzel had a goal and two assists. His 21st goal of the season came off an assist from Crosby, the 700th of Crosby's career. Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Penguins, who drew within two points of idle first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. Casey DeSmith finished with 27 saves.

Jonathan Drouin, Nikita Scherbak and Jacob de la Rose scored for the Canadiens, who have dropped nine of their last 10 games. Carey Price made 34 stops in his first start in a month due to a concussion (see full recap).

Schwartz, Blues top Bruins in OT
ST. LOUIS — Jaden Schwartz scored his second goal of the game 30 seconds into overtime to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

Schwartz skated up the middle and fired a shot past Anton Khudobin. The Blues won for the fifth time in six games to move within a point of the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

Jake Allen made 21 saves to improve to 24-21-2.

Ryan Donato scored for Boston. The Bruins clinched a playoff spot and moved within four points of Tampa Bay for the Eastern lead.

Schwartz tied it midway through the third period with a wrist shot from the top of the circle.

Donato scored his second goal in his second NHL game. He had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 loss to Columbus on Monday night.

Donato, still a student at Harvard University, returned to Massachusetts on Tuesday to attend class before flying back to St. Louis to rejoin the Bruins. His father, Ted, played 528 games in two stints with the Bruins (1992-99, 2003-04) (see full recap).

Rookie sets record in Coyotes’ victory
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Clayton Keller had two assists to set the Arizona Coyotes' franchise record for most points by a rookie in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night in a matchup of the NHL's two worst teams.

Rookie Dylan Strome scored in his first game after being called up from the minors. Derek Stepan had a goal and assist, and Richard Panik and Max Domi, with an empty-netter, also scored. Antti Raanta stopped 29 shots to improve to 12-4-4 in his past 20 starts.

Keller, Arizona's 2016 first-round draft pick, extended his points streak to six games, in which he has two goals and five assists. He has 55 points, one more than Peter Mueller had in setting the rookie team record in 2007-08. And Keller has 35 assists, one more than teammate Max Domi had in his rookie season two years ago.

Arizona improved to 13-5-2 in its past 20, and earned its 61st point in leaving Vancouver alone at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Jordan Nolan scored for Buffalo, which dropped to 23-38-12 to remain in last place in the overall standings (see full recap).