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Stanley Cup Final

Coach's analysis: Special teams sparks Predators in Game 3 of Cup Final

Former NHL assistant Perry Pearn praises Nashville's power play, penalty kill in win against Penguins

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.

NASHVILLE -- Of the many elements that led to the Nashville Predators' 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, special teams were at the heart of the matter, former NHL assistant Perry Pearn said.

Nashville went 2-for-3 on the power play in Game 3 and killed off all three Pittsburgh power plays.

"Probably the most important thing of the game," Pearn said Sunday. "Their penalty killing is doing the job against what is a very good power play and the ability of their own power play to get something on Pittsburgh, who have been pretty good in the playoffs at penalty killing, is so key.

"I think any time you win the special teams game, you up your percentages in terms of winning. The fact they're dominating as much as they did is really significant in [Saturday] night's game."

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coverage | Penguins' Matt Murray aims to bounce back in Game 4]

 

As important as the goals was the momentum the Predators created on special teams.

"The all-important first goal for Nashville is a power-play goal, and they had two big kills in the first period," Pearn said. "It felt to me that if Pittsburgh got the second goal, that goal would have been a very big hole for Nashville.

"If you have a good power play and you generate chances, then you generate momentum. The flip side is true that if you don't generate chances, then the momentum will flip the other way. So Nashville flipped the momentum of the game with their penalty kill in the first period."

In terms of individuals, Pearn singled out Predators goalie Pekka Rinne for an excellent bounce-back game. Rinne stopped 27 of 28 shots after struggling in the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh.

"Everybody had written off Rinne after the first two games, and people were on him, well, his bounce-back game was really good," Pearn said. "I know the (television) announcers said he looked shaky but to me, he was really solid [Saturday] night, a big factor."

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Pearn cited a turning point in the game in the second period. Rinne was a central figure.

"Nashville has just scored two goals to take the lead and then the push back from Pittsburgh came real hard," Pearn said. "I think it was around the 12-minute mark when Phil Kessel comes down and makes a good shot and then Chris Kunitz gets the rebound. Rinne, maybe even with P.K. Subban interfering with him a little bit, he makes those saves, and those were critical.

"I felt like if Pittsburgh scored there, all of a sudden it's the kind of game Pittsburgh wants to play."

Instead, the Predators took a 3-1 lead with 22.6 seconds left in the second period on a goal by James Neal.

"It was another key moment," Pearn said. "That made the mountain for the third period a pretty big one to climb and it led to the end result.

"As they opened up, the Penguins opened themselves up to some odd-man rushes. In some ways, that was the most entertaining game of the series until that fourth goal. Both teams played a pretty wide-open, take-it-to-the-other-team kind of game. There was some exchanging of chances, and it was not as conservative as we saw in the first two games."

The hype surrounding Game 3, the first-ever Stanley Cup Final game played in Nashville, was also no small factor, Pearn said.

"You can't help but be impressed by whole atmosphere in Nashville," he said. "As a coach observing that, it seems apparent that that atmosphere has served Nashville well. They certainly drew from the energy that the crowd brought."

It was important because Pearn thought the Penguins were sharper than many observers gave them credit for.

"For my money, Pittsburgh might have been better over 60 minutes than in either of the games in Pittsburgh," Pearn said. "One of the areas where their game improved was that the Matt Cullen unit had a very good game in terms of getting pucks deep and getting in on forecheck. They put pressure on the Nashville defense.

"To me, Pittsburgh looked like they had a lot better legs in the first period than they did in the first two games. They pressured Nashville a lot in the first period and could have easily gotten ahead 2-0."

One difference in the attitudes of the respective teams is showing itself in the Final, Pearn said.

"Watching the two teams [Saturday] night, this really sticks out for me," he said. "When Nashville went on offense, their first thought is the shot; their second thought is pass.

"When I watch Pittsburgh on offense, they seem to have an attitude to look for the pass first, and their second thought is shot. They passed up opportunities to take shots at Rinne, which is odd, because they've been successful with rebounds in the series."

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