With all of Nashville behind them, the Predators dominated Game 3 to win their first ever Stanley Cup Final game. USA TODAY Sports
But the Nashville Predators’ 5-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final may have come close to being a perfect win in terms of what it meant for the team, Nashville fans, goalie Pekka Rinne and the NHL.
“It was electric here,” Predators forward Craig Smith said.
This was the first Stanley Cup Final game ever played in Nashville, and even during warm-ups the lower bowl was packed with fans, all standing, all cheering and chanting with as much energy as you will ever witness at a sporting event.
Rinne said when players came into the dressing room after warm-ups they were all telling each other that they had never seen anything like that.
“And we were all aware how crazy it was outside,” Predators forward James Neal said.
NHL officials have to be pleased with the outcome simply because it is very clear now that this could be a highly entertaining series featuring two energized fan bases.
In Pittsburgh, Penguins shirts and signs are everywhere. In Nashville, the buzz about the Predators flows up Broadway. Talk of the Predators fills the honky-tonks.
“This is giving our fans a chance to be recognized,” Rinne said. “They are on the big stage now. This is a good showcase for the City of Nashville.”
On the ice, the Predators played their most consistent, and best game of the series. Defenseman Mattas Ekholm said recently that when the Predators are playing smart and sharply they can beat anybody.
The Predators proved his point in Game 3.
“I think this is for sure saying, ‘We are here to play and we are not out of this by any means,’ ” Ekholm said.
The Predators are now down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 4 in Nashville on Monday. They are now 8-1 at home in this postseason.
“I thought the speed was there, the execution was there,” Ekholm said. “I really thought it was a 60-minute game. (Rinne) was unbelievable and every guy took his game to the next level and that is what we needed.”
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both held without a shot in a playoff game for the first time in their history together.
The Penguins were also 0-for-3 on the power play, leaving them 1-for-13 on the power play in the series.
“My observation of coaching these guys, is when they have success on the power play, it helps their overall game, their five-on-five game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “It gives them confidence. They feel the puck.
“We haven’t had the (power play) success that we would like. We certainly have to figure that out as a group. I believe we will.”
Nashville defenseman Roman Josi led the offensive attack with a goal and two assists.
“He’s as consistent of a player as there is in the National Hockey League,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said.
But the most important player was Rinne. For the past 48 hours, fans and media have debated whether he should be replaced by rookie Juuse Saros. Rinne had given up eight goals and posted a .778 save percentage in the first two games of the series.
He posted 27 saves in Game 3, including 13 in the second period when the Predators were building a 3-1 lead.
“There has been no doubt in him at all,” Ekholm said. “But what a way to come back.”