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Stanley Cup Final

Coach's analysis: Improved forecheck boosted Predators in Game 4

Former NHL assistant Perry Pearn says Penguins defense faced increased pressure

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Perry Pearn to break down the action from the Predators' perspective. Pearn will be checking in throughout the Final.

Pearn, 65, has worked 22 seasons as an NHL assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. He began his NHL career as an assistant in Winnipeg in 1995-96.

Pearn also has a gold medal as coach (1993) and two golds as an assistant (1990, 1991) with Canada's national junior team at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

PITTSBURGH -- Whether it was by design or it simply was a more focused effort, the Nashville Predators got more out of their forecheck in Game 4 than they had at any point of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins, former NHL assistant Perry Pearn said.

The Predators won Game 4 4-1 to tie the best-of-7 series 2-2. Game 5 is here Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"The Predators did a really good job of forechecking, and to me they did it with a purpose in Game 4," Pearn said Tuesday. "All those aerial passes behind the Pittsburgh defense, that made them go back and Nashville was getting up the ice hard with the forwards and forechecking it hard and getting pressure out of it."

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Lidster analysis: Penguins need more from Malkin, Kessel]

 

Pearn said that the effort that went into that strategy helped offset a less-aggressive pinching plan than the one the Predators had been employing.

"My sense was that Nashville wasn't quite as aggressive pinching, especially on the wide side last night," he said. "Pittsburgh's been trying to play that by screening off the Nashville player that's over on the pinch by getting their wide forward to the boards first.

"They screen it off and then the puck gets by. But overall, Nashville's forecheck was really effective and put a lot of pressure on Pittsburgh's defense and created a lot of good chances in that game."

Pearn said it points to more evidence of one edge for the Predators.

"As the series goes on, it starts to become fairly apparent that offensive skill level of the Nashville defense corps is significant compared to that on the Pittsburgh side," Pearn said. "They're not playing bad, but Pittsburgh's defense won't create the same kind of chances that Nashville's defense will."

Another element that factored into the result of Game 4 was Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who made 23 saves.

"Rinne came up with some really clutch saves that kept them ahead and kept them in the game early," Pearn said. "Pittsburgh had some really good chances in the first period, but once Nashville was ahead, Rinne came up with a couple of dandies.

"After the first two games of the series, when people were really critical of Rinne, you have to give him a lot of credit for the last two games."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Rinne dives for amazing blocker stop

And it was a good thing too, Pearn said, because Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was a force in Game 4.

"The game overall was different again," Pearn said. "Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin were back into it. I thought Crosby played especially well and because of that, I thought it would make things a lot more dangerous for Nashville.

"But Rinne was very good and Pittsburgh failed to capitalize on a really good game from Crosby. It looked to me Jake Guentzel (Crosby's linemate) had at least five really top-notch scoring chances, and he didn't convert one, which is surprising considering how hot he's been.

"If Guentzel scores on one of them, you're probably looking at an overtime game."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Crosby nets slick backhand on break

Game 4, Pearn said, was one of those when inches mattered.

"There were at least a couple of 'inches' plays," he said. "The one where (Penguins defenseman) Brian Dumoulin hits the post in the third period is critical, and so is (Predators forward) Frederick Gaudreau's goal in the second period, another 'inches' play.

"That it was that close will make it interesting ahead, given that Crosby was sharp and Malkin was into it and Pittsburgh's power play looked better. Nashville's going to be paying attention to that, that the Penguins really threatened and moved the puck with authority."

Pearn said that Game 4 was one of the higher-quality playoff games he's seen this year.

"There were breakaways … I think Pittsburgh had three, mainly because they found that middle (seam) that's there because Nashville's defense is sometimes split or plays wide," he said. "The Pittsburgh forwards see transition, and they did a good job of hitting that middle ice.

"The transition for both teams was good and the speed of the game was good. If you're a hockey fan and you watched that game, you should be excited about hockey."

Pearn also said he noticed one other exceptional performance in Game 4, that of Predators captain Mike Fisher.

"So impressed with how well Fisher played," Pearn said. "He's a tremendous guy and a real character player, and they got everything out of him last night. And he made that tremendous play on the [Viktor] Arvidsson goal.

"In the four games, with plenty of time against Crosby, Fisher has been very, very good."

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