Predators Dominate Again, Even Series 2-2
The Nashville Predators are this close to winning their first-ever Stanley Cup.
They’ve been the better team in the series against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but the Preds will have to settle for a 2-2 tie in their best-of-seven Final after winning both their games at home. Nashville knotted the series Monday night with a convincing 4-1 victory as –145 favorites, two days after thumping the Penguins 5-1 at –160 on the moneyline.
If there were any concerns over Pekka Rinne’s state of mind following the first two games in Pittsburgh, the Predators netminder has swatted them aside, as he did with 23 of 24 Penguins shots on goal in Game 3.
Now the onus is on Matt Murray – unless Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan decides to switch things up and put Marc-Andre Fleury back in net for Game 5 this Thursday (8 PM ET, NBC).
This has been a very strange week for the Penguins. They went into the Stanley Cup Final as –155 favorites to defend their title, then moved to –240 after winning the opener 5-3, and all the way to –600 following their 4-1 victory in Game 2. Pittsburgh was outplayed in both games, but Rinne had some bad luck on deflections in Game 1 before getting shelled in the third period of their next matchup.
Predators fans had every reason to be concerned with their goalie. Consistency has never been Rinne’s hallmark. The giant Finn was second in voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2014-15, then gave up a league-worst 161 goals last year at a career-low .908 save percentage. Now Rinne is halfway to bringing the Cup to Nashville for the first time, and getting his name inscribed on the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Pittsburgh still has the hammer in this series, though.
The defending champs retain home-ice advantage with Games 5 and 7 (if necessary) at the PPG Paints Arena, and they have arguably the world’s greatest hockey player in Sidney Crosby, who scored his first goal of the Final and eighth of the playoffs on Monday. But they might not have center Nick Bonino, one of their goal-scorers from Game 1; Bonino blocked a shot with his foot in Game 2 and missed both games in Nashville. The Pens are already missing top blue-liner Kris Letang (neck) and fourth-line RW Tom Kuhnhackl (lower-body injury). Every player counts at the end of a long season.
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