NASHVILLE – It was a party 19 years in the marking, and one that Smashville will never forget.
The Nashville Predators won the first Stanley Cup Final home game in franchise history, 5-1, in Game 3 on Saturday night. The win cut the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lead in the series to 2-1, with Game 4 in Nashville on Monday night.
And it was a party. Thousands inside the building roared at deafening levels, cheering for their team and mocking Penguins goalie Matt Murray with chants after each goal. Outside, thousands more Nashville fans that had been hitting the bars – and one car with a Penguins logo in front of the arena, with a sledgehammer – since before lunchtime, were equally euphoric.
Two franchise standard-bearers came up big in Game 3. Defenseman Roman Josi had a goal and two assists. Pekka Rinne, coming off two rough nights in Pittsburgh, made 27 saves after getting the loudest ovation during player introductions, following a few days of lingering uncertainty that he would start the game.
The Penguins took a 1-0 lead on a goal by – who else? – Jake Guentzel, tallying his 13th of the postseason and fourth goal of the Stanley Cup Final.
That was Viktor Arvidsson who was unable to clear the puck, allowing the Penguins to keep it deep in the Predators’ zone. And that was Sidney Crosby smartly sending a pass back to Ian Cole, whose blast off of Rinne set up the rebound goal for Guentzel, who defenseman Ryan Ellis couldn’t keep off the puck.
Matt Murray was sharp early on for the Penguins. He made a point-blank save on James Neal, and followed that later in the first period with a 2-on-1 save on Viktor Arvidsson.
It wasn’t until the second period when the Predators finally broke through.
Nashville was on the power play with Justin Schultz in the box for holding. Calle Jarnkrok, who had a great game overall, controlled the puck on the half boards. He skated deeper into the zone, enticing the Penguins’ PK to overcommit. He then snapped a cross-ice pass to Roman Josi for a shot that floated over the left pad of Murray and in to tie the game.
The Penguins had won the first two games of the series in part because of quick-strike flurries of goals. This time it was Nashville who built a lead quickly, with their second goal just 42 seconds later.
That was rookie Frederick Gaudreau’s second goal of the playoffs, a nasty snipe from the slot that flat out beat Murray for the 2-1 lead.
Then, at the end of the period, James Neal finally broke through against his former team.
Viktor Arvidsson made the play on this one, aggressively getting to the puck and bouncing a pass to Neal for his sixth of the playoffs.
The Predators came out on a mission in the third period, earning a handful of breakaways against Murray. Craig Smith converted on this for his first of the playoffs:
Mattias Ekholm added a power-play goal through Murray later in the period. The Predators had scored four goals on their first 80 shots on Murray. They scored five on 15 shots in Game 3.
The Predators were 7-0 when leading after two periods in these playoffs, and they showed why in closing out this one against the Penguins, who dropped to 1-6 when trailing after two periods.
The fans cheered wildly as time ticked down, witnessing franchise history. There’s still a hole from which to dig out. But for one night, there were catfish flying and there was country rock and there was Nicole Kidman dance-hugging Keith Urban and a gold-covered arena chanting until the fans’ throats burned.
For one night, it was Nashville’s hockey party.
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