It took a while, but the promise of an exciting Stanley Cup final is being fulfilled.
Games one and two, both Pittsburgh wins, were hardly classics. I didn't see game three as I was on airplanes, but it was a step in the right direction.
Game four was a thrilling barn-burner, as they say, with Pekka Rinne stealing the show and quite possibly the game.
Pittsburgh looked strong early in the game, with Sidney Crosby looking like he would not be denied and rookie sensation Jake Guentzel creating several glorious scoring chances. Pittsburgh is trying to make a dynasty based on opportunistic offense from it's many game-breakers, and it probably should have worked on this night.
But a brick wall named Rinne stood in their way.
Rinne was nothing short of spectacular with a goaltending performance Nashville fans will never forget. Pittsburgh better watch out, because as inexplicably bad/unlucky Rinne was in games one and two, that's how good he was in game four.
With the series knotted at two wins apiece after four games, we have a whole new series. It's a best of three, with Nashville holding the momentum before game five. I still like Pittsburgh to win. They will benefit from the two days of rest now afforded the two teams the rest of the way. I highly respect Mike Sullivan's coaching abilities, as I thought Pittsburgh made some real nice adjustments in game four. The game plan goes out the window when you fall behind a goal or two in a Stanley Cup game, especially when Rinne is in the Penguins' heads like he was tonight. Getting an early lead is always a vitally important tactic in any game, but especially this time of year. Crosby and game-breakers will strike through.
That being said Nashville very possibly could take this to seven games, and all bets are off in such a showdown.
The real winners are the hockey fans, who are now getting treated to some fantastic hockey in the 2017 Stanley Cup final.
Here's some news and notes from the NHL's Morning Skate media release:
GAUDREAU HELPS PREDATORS EVEN STANLEY CUP FINAL AT 2-2 The Predators scored three unanswered goals, including the go-ahead tally by Frederick Gaudreau at 3:45 of the second period, to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece.
* Gaudreau, who signed with the Predators as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and made his NHL debut Oct. 22 vs. PIT, has registered each of his first three career goals (regular season and playoffs, 15 GP) in the Stanley Cup Final. Elias says that only one other player in NHL history scored each of his first three career goals (regular season and playoffs) in the Stanley Cup Final: Chicago’s John Harms in 1944 vs. MTL (3-0—3).
* Gaudreau potted the decisive goal for the second straight contest, following his winner at 6:33 of the second period in Game 3. Rookies have accounted for all four game-winning goals thus far in the Stanley Cup Final (Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel has the other two). No other Final has featured four winning goals from rookies since the NHL took control of the Stanley Cup in 1926-27.
* Gaudreau became just the third rookie to collect consecutive game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup Final since the NHL took sole possession of the trophy in 1926-27 – and the second to do so in this series (following Guentzel). The other: Roy Conacher, who notched the winner for the Bruins in Games 3, 4 and 5 in 1939 vs. TOR.
* Rookies have totaled nine of the 24 total goals thus far in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final (37.5%) – Guentzel (4), Gaudreau (3), Pontus Aberg (1) and Scott Wilson (1). Elias notes that it is the highest combined rookie total in the Final since the NHL took control of the Stanley Cup in 1926-27, breaking the old record of eight in 1973, 1980 and 1981.
* The Predators became the 13th team to even the Stanley Cup Final at 2-2 after falling behind 2-0 in the series (out of 51 total instances since the format went to best-of-seven in 1939). Four of the prior 12 clubs went on to win the Stanley Cup: 1966 MTL, 1971 MTL, 2009 PIT and 2011 BOS.
PREDATORS, RINNE CONTINUE HOME DOMINANCE Pekka Rinne stopped 23 shots, including all 18 he faced after the opening period, to help the Predators improve to a League-best 9-1 at home in the playoffs (+19 goal differential; 34-15).
* Rinne, who has started all 10 of Nashville’s home postseason games, owns a 1.44 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in those contests. He has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of those 10 games.
* The Kempele, Finland, native earned his 36th career playoff win (68 GP), tying Antti Niemi (67 GP) for the most in NHL history by a Finnish-born goaltender.
* Home teams have won 37 of the past 53 games in the Stanley Cup Final dating to 2009 (69.8%), including all four this year.
DID YOU KNOW? The Stanley Cup Final will require at least six games for the ninth time in the last 10 years and 15th time in the past 18 seasons.
IMPORTANCE OF GAME 5 The team that has won Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Final has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 17 of 24 times (70.8%) since the series adopted the best-of-seven format in 1939.
However, the club that has lost Game 5 has rebounded to win the series in four of the past eight such occasions (all since 2001 – 2001 COL, 2004 TBL, 2009 PIT and 2011 BOS).