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Stanley Cup Final

Frederick Gaudreau of Predators finding place in Final

Has no locker for practice, but scores game-winning goal against Penguins in Game 4

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators have spaces for 25 players in their locker room at Bridgestone Arena. On Monday morning, forward Frederick Gaudreau didn't have one.

He had the least seniority in terms of NHL games played -- nine in the regular season, five in the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- so the attendants set up a chair and wheeled out a knee-high cabinet to hold his gear for practice.

"I could be sitting on the floor," Gaudreau said then, "and I would take it any time."


[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Subban looking to catch breath before Game 5]


On Monday night, Gaudreau raised the roof, and the Bridgestone Arena speakers blared The Black Keys' "Gold on the Ceiling." He scored the winner in a 4-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

He has scored the winner in back-to-back games as the Predators have tied the best-of-7 series 2-2. He has scored three goals in the Final after never scoring in the NHL before. The only other player to do so: Chicago Black Hawks forward John Harms against the Montreal Canadiens in 1944.

When the Predators skate the morning of Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), maybe Gaudreau should have a normal space.

"We'll see if we can squeeze him in somewhere," captain Mike Fisher said. "I think he's earned it."

Then again ...

"The way he's playing in these finals sitting in that seat," forward Austin Watson said, "let's leave him there."

Gaudreau, 24, was never drafted, not in junior, not in the NHL. In the past three seasons, he has played 14 games for Cincinnati of the ECHL and 184 for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. After Milwaukee was eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs on April 26, the Predators recalled him.

He didn't play for almost a month.

Then the Predators lost their top two centers -- Fisher and Ryan Johansen -- in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. Gaudreau came in cold against the Anaheim Ducks and won 10 of 14 faceoffs in his NHL playoff debut. The Predators won Games 5 and 6, clinching their first Final appearance.

Fisher returned for the Final, and Gaudreau has played both wing and center. He hasn't cared, just as he hasn't cared where he has sat in the locker room or where he has stayed off the ice. He's living in a hotel not just on the road but at home. His parents drove from Bromont, Quebec, to Pittsburgh and saw him score his first NHL goal in Game 1, then drove to Nashville and saw him score again in Game 3.

"It is a little crazy when you think about it, but honestly, I'm just trying to do my job," Gaudreau said Monday morning. "Whatever's happening is happening, and I'm focusing on what I can do next."

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Gaudreau converts on a wraparound

This is what happened next: Gaudreau got to the rink for Game 4 and had a regular space in the locker room between Pontus Aberg and Calle Jarnkrok, the same space he had when he scored in Game 3.

With the score 1-1 in the second period, goaltender Pekka Rinne stopped Penguins forward Chris Kunitz on a breakaway, and the Predators went back up ice and got in on the forecheck. Forward Harry Zolnierczyk rimmed the puck around to the right point, and defenseman Ryan Ellis fired it wide of the net.

Gaudreau grabbed the puck and wrapped around at 3:45.

"I kind of thought it was maybe in," Gaudreau said.

But goaltender Matt Murray swiped it out with his blocker.

"I thought it was close," defenseman Roman Josi said. "I was surprised nobody celebrated."

Play continued. The Predators changed lines.

"Obviously we weren't confident it was a goal," Zolnierczyk said. "I definitely didn't know at all. Once we got back to the bench, they were saying, 'Get a whistle! Get a whistle!'"

The horn blew 35 seconds after the wraparound. The NHL Situation Room in Toronto had initiated a video review and determined that the puck had crossed the goal line. Gaudreau had scored again. The Predators led 2-1.

Bedlam inside Bridgestone Arena and outside on Broadway.

"That's a credit to him," coach Peter Laviolette said. "When you start the way he did, having to work for everything, literally every contract and every opportunity, improve yourself. At this level, it's no different. That's on him."

What does this mean for his future? Gaudreau isn't worried about where he sits in any respect.

"I don't know," Gaudreau said. "You would have to ask the coach. My only focus is on right here, right now, and next year I'll see what's up."

Forget a space in the locker room for now. There is a space on the Stanley Cup. Two more wins for Nashville, and Frederick Gaudreau's name will be on it.

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