Well, Nashville finally stepped in that steaming pile that every team they’ve faced so far has quickly become familiar with. Way to go boys. If they’re lucky, the Preds will fare better than those teams did, who are all well into their golf seasons, and the only the thing a loss in this series affords the Preds is a short offseason, a lot of questions, and a bad taste that will last until they return to avenge their downfall. An opportunity that is not guaranteed for any team.
Fortunately, P.K. Subban has made Preds fans a promise. Hopefully, he can deliver as he has so far delivered a Stanley Cup Final performance laden with stupid penalties, f-bombs, and less than spectacular contributions to the stat sheet.
So, let’s take a look at where Pittsburgh has gone right, and the countless missed opportunities for the Nashville Predators so far.
First Game Fake Out
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 31, 2017
Well, Game 1 couldn’t have gone any better for the Preds. Too bad the scoreboard indicated a loss nonetheless.
The Predators essentially had the Pens handing them the reins of the series and slapped the horse on the backside for them to run away with it.
Who knew Nashville would be afraid of horses?
The Preds out-shot the Penguins 27-12 for the game which is pretty glaring in and of itself, but the more alarming stat that had Pens fans hyperventilating was that the Pens didn’t manage a single shot for 37 minutes. Let’s try this again…37 MINUTES!
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s god awful. And ordinarily, that would spell disaster even for a reigning Stanley Cup Champion, but the Penguins don’t quit. The Preds did tie the game, but the Pens not only broke the 3-3 tie, they also got an empty netter to shut down any hopes of a Preds come back as the clock wound down.
Stupid Penalties and Promises
If you are wondering how the Penguins come back from something like that, there are two key contributors. First, they have the will of a champion (a rather important distinction). Second, the Preds doubled down on the stupidity and took two minor penalties at the same time.
Calle Jarnkrok had a delayed interference penalty, and in the time it took for the Preds to touch the puck, veteran James Neal took an ill-advised cross checking penalty that was far too undisciplined for a player with his experience.
That allowed the Penguins to draw first blood about five minutes into the first period. And, with just a sliver of momentum, they managed to finish the first with three goals.
Of course, there was equal opportunity idiocy as the Penguins kindly neglected to take a shot for 37 minutes after an eight-shot (three goal) first, and also got in on the pointless penalties that gave the Preds two power play goals they were all too happy to take advantage of. The Pens generosity afforded the Preds with only a 3-2 deficit thanks to Ryan Ellis and Colton Sissons who have been among the Preds top producers this postseason.
A goal by Frederick Gaudreau about halfway into the third leveled the ice and gave the Preds just under seven minutes to get a game-winner in a game that they had largely dominated already. Anything less would be an embarrassment.
The Penguins managed only four shots in the final 40 minutes of the game while the Preds had 15. This should have been an easy win, but somehow the Preds slithered off the ice like contraband catfish nursing a 5-3 Game 1 loss, a leaky netminder, and an ice cold offense.
Not a very welcoming introduction into their first Stanley Cup Final!
Never fear, Subban made a promise! Of course, that might carry more meaning if he knocked off the ridiculous penalties (delay of game, really?), and f-bombs. If his Preds can’t deliver, this promise will haunt him long into next season. Although, a little offensive production from Subban would also be helpful.
However, after outperforming the Penguins in Game 1, the Preds were certainly going to come out firing and steal Game 2 in Steel City, right?
Sure, if you are a Smashville fan you probably told yourself that for two days. Too bad the Penguins already know how to keep their foot on the gas and a skate blade on the Preds jugular.
However, the Preds came out looking pretty sharp.
They threw 18 shots on Matt Murray, and they took advantage of the Penguins on the dots, not an easy task against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, especially when you are already down your top pivot in Ryan Johansen.
Early on, it looked like it was going to pay off as Pontus Aberg tallied a little beyond the halfway mark in the first, but unfortunately, that was all the Preds could muster.
Perhaps that would have been enough with pre-Cup Final Pekka Rinne who came into the series with a .941 Save Percentage (SV%) and a 1.35 Goals Against Average (GAA), but with the .738 SV% and four goals given up in each of the first two games that one goal isn’t going to cut it at all.
In fact, for the first time these playoffs, Rinne was yanked in favor of 22-year-old Juuse Saros. Worse yet, it is possible that he will give up his starting spot to Saros in Game 3 and possibly in future efforts if his young backup holds his own.
For a netminder that has dominated throughout the playoffs, sitting on the sidelines while he watches his backup either salvage their Cup chances or being forced to watch as their outstanding postseason run screeches to an abrupt halt will not sit well with the veteran netminder and former Vezina Trophy finalist.
The Preds postseason run may not be in Rinne’s hands at this point, but there is no discounting the outstanding run he’s had up to this point. Though that will provide very little consolation if their run ends without a Stanley Cup.
Pens Postseason Performers Eclipsing Preds
While the Preds have seen their top performers freeze, the Pens have had big performances from Malkin, Matt Murray, Nick Bonino, Jake Guentzel, and Conor Sheary. While the Pens would love to see Crosby and Phil Kessel on that list as well, they are happy to see Malkin and a slew of their best role players making their mark.
The Preds, on the other hand, are not faring so well.
The fact that Rinne has been hot through the entire postseason is commendable, but the fact that he has gone ice cold at the same time as all of the Preds top scoring threats is beyond unfortunate. Filip Forsberg had erased doubts after his sub-par postseason last year quickly, but he has been Mr. Freeze in the Cup Final thus far. Viktor Arvidsson, Neal, and Roman Josi have also delivered a big chill.
Sissons and Ellis have each added one goal, but that isn’t going to be enough to turn the tables on a Penguins team that has certainly appeared to want this more to this point. As I said in the preview, this would likely come down to a battle of wills and the team that wants it more and manages their health (or lack thereof) the best would prevail.
Obviously, Rinne has not maintained his hot streak, and it is clearly hampering the Preds effort, but he can’t be the only one the hook when no one is giving him the run support he needs to counter his slipping stat line.
The idea that the two netminders could cancel each other out is unlikely to be a factor unless Saros or Rinne gets into their groove (and/or Murray suddenly suffers a similar fate) and the Preds manage to produce a bit more offensively.
Put Up, or Shut Up
P.K. Subban destroyed a water bottle at practice this morning. Seeing it in slo-mo is pretty cool pic.twitter.com/t2Szp2Pzm6
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 31, 2017
For now, the Preds are forced to stand tall and deliver on Subban’s promise as they take their home ice tonight. The hope is that he can help them deliver the same kind of destruction as he did to that water bottle in their morning skate a few days back and if he can he will undoubtedly be lauded as the hero. But, if the Preds finish the night in a 3-0 hole against the defending champs, the curtain on their season may be too heavy even in the Music City.
For every period that the Preds big guns stay silent, the skate blade on their jugular comes a little closer to delivering the fatal blow.
The Pens are a veteran team that has weathered every storm that has come their way in the last two seasons, and they will not sink their own ship, so the Preds are going to have to deliver four games in the next five that are nothing short of their best in order to cap their stellar postseason with a Stanley Cup and save themselves from an offseason of what ifs and could have been’s.
They have no more free passes because the Pens are unlikely to give the Preds another Game 1 type of performance. It’s time to deliver on all the promise they’ve shown to go from Wild Card to Cup contender because anything less is going to leave more questions than a first round exit after their performances in the previous rounds.
The Preds went from a team playing like a favorite to a pretender in just 120 minutes, and if they don’t find their way back to that earlier dominance in this series it’s going to end earlier than anyone anticipated and the Penguins will be hopping over catfish landmines as they pass the Stanley Cup among themselves at Bridgestone Arena.
— Dave Pierce (@pittsburghers) June 1, 2017