Double the overtime, double the fun. Again.
Luke Kunin scored the game-winning goal at the 16:10 mark of the second OT, and the Nashville Predators defeated the Carolina Hurricanes by a 4-3 final in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena.
The result gives the Preds their second consecutive victory in double overtime against the Hurricanes, and more importantly, the best-of-seven series is now even at two games apiece.
Behind the energy of yet another thunderous crowd at Bridgestone Arena of 12,135 strong, the Predators went back and forth with Carolina all day long, and it by the time it was all over, Preds goaltender Juuse Saros had made a franchise-record 58 saves to record his second-straight, double-OT win.
The effort from Saros, combined with regulation goals from Kunin, Ryan Johansen and Nick Cousins propelled Nashville to win consecutive postseason games in multiple overtimes for the first time in team history.
Video: Kunin, Johansen reflect on Preds' 4-3 double OT win
"It's been a battle, and I thought our team got better as the game went on," Kunin said. "We knew if we just stuck with the game plan and how we play, we were going to get our looks, and we did that. Everybody in the lineup, Juice, I mean it was an unbelievable effort by everyone. And the crowd, unbelievable again. It just gives us so much energy to go out and play like that."
Video: Hynes gives credit to his team for their resiliency
"That's just how our group is made up - since Day One, we've loved the character in the room," Johansen said. "We know there's no quit, and the resilience is showing when we need it most. That's our group, and we're going to continue to try and get better and keep moving forward."
The hometown faithful were fired up from the start, and they didn't have to wait long to explode for the first time when Kunin slid a puck past Alex Nedeljkovic just 57 seconds into Game 4 to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Video: CAR@NSH, Gm4: Kunin deposits backhand 57 seconds in
With just under two minutes to play in the opening period, Vincent Trocheck beat Saros off a scramble in front to even the score, but the Preds capitalized on a Nedeljkovic miscue early in the second stanza after he failed to freeze the puck, and Johansen pounced for his second in as many games and a 2-1 lead.
Video: CAR@NSH, Gm4: Johansen backhands goal home from slot
But just as they did in the first, Carolina tied the game late in the period again when Brock McGinn's shot found its way through traffic for a 2-2 draw through 40 minutes.
The Hurricanes needed only 13 seconds in the final frame to take their first lead of the afternoon, but Cousins tipped in a shot from Erik Haula roughly three minutes later on the power play to knot things at 3-3. Then, just as they did in Game 3, the two clubs needed overtime once more.
Video: CAR@NSH, Gm4: Cousins tips tying PPG home from slot
After the first OT session solved nothing, the two clubs headed to double overtime in consecutive games for the first time in the history of both franchises, and in just more than 95 minutes of game play, the afternoon that turned into evening hit a climax.
Kunin, who had broken his stick on a play in the neutral zone and had to retreat to the bench, was handed a new twig from Preds Head Equipment Manager Pete Rogers to get back in the play. However, Kunin's quick aversion to the bench allowed him to enter the Carolina zone undetected by the opposition.
Unfortunately for the visitors, however, Mikael Granlund knew exactly where Kunin was, and he fed the winger a perfect pass to tally the first playoff game-winner of his career - and then the celebration was on.
Video: CAR@NSH, Gm4: Kunin nets second goal in 2nd overtime
"Just good play by [Calle Jarnkrok] over to Granny, and Granny found me in the slot," Kunin said. "I broke my stick, and our equipment guy had it ready. I got up in the slot and finally found a way to get it in there. A great play by them, just happy it went in."
"We actually gave Pete a round of applause after the game," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said of the extra assist. "He's a veteran equipment manager, he's been around, he's plugged into the game and Kunny breaks the stick, he jumps back, and I think if you go back through the video you see him, like he's high stepping back to the stick and gets it right away… and I do think he's coming into the zone a little bit later, so it's a little bit tougher read for their D to see him coming in late. It's a heck of a play by Granlund to be able to find him there, so yeah, tip of the cap to Pete Rogers for sure."
The game-winning goal heroics notwithstanding, the Preds wouldn't have had a chance if it weren't for Saros.
Not only did the Nashville netminder become just the second goaltender since 1955-56 to record 50-plus saves in consecutive playoff games, he became the ninth goaltender on record to register at least 58 saves in a playoff game in which he played fewer than 100 minutes.
"He's a stud," Johansen said of Saros. "He's a big part of our team success and our success right now and winning these last two games. Like I said, he's a stud, and he's going to keep doing his thing and we're going to keep counting on him."
With two of the more entertaining games in Predators franchise history out of the way, the group will head back to Raleigh for Game 5 on Tuesday night with a chance to take a lead in the series after starting down 0-2.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, anything is possible, and while there is still work to do, the Predators are showing they belong with one of the League's best, especially with the help of playoff-level decibel readings courtesy of the faithful in Gold.
"The energy and the atmosphere - you almost feel numb out there," Johansen said of playing in front of Preds fans in double overtime. "You just feel like a robot, you just keep going. Your legs keep turning. It's just amazing being back to normal with our crowd. It's so much fun out there, and we look forward to getting back here for Game 6, too."
And even through the exhaustion that comes with playing almost 200 minutes of hockey in 48 hours, the Predators were still smiling with a best-of-three in the week ahead.
"A lot of emotion comes out in those games, but we came out on top," Johansen said. "That's just going to fuel us continuing to play better as we're going along, and we've got to take another step in Game 5."
Video: Kunin, Saros lift Predators to 4-3 2OT Game 4 victory
Nashville is 5-3 in playoff games that go at least two overtimes in franchise history.
The Preds are 9-10 all-time in postseason overtime.
Luke Kunin became the fifth player to score in the opening minute of a playoff game in Preds history joining Adam Hall, Ryan Johansen, James Neal and Colin Wilson.
Preds forward Viktor Arvidsson missed his second-straight game with an upper-body injury and remains day-to-day. Forward Mathieu Olivier entered the lineup in place of forward Tanner Jeannot in Game 4.
Forwards Brad Richardson, Rem Pitlick, Rocco Grimaldi and Michael McCarron, defensemen Tyler Lewington, David Farrance, Jeremy Davies, Erik Gudbranson and Dante Fabbro, as well as goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo were also scratched in Game 4.
Game 5 between the Predators and Hurricanes is set for Tuesday night (time TBD) in Raleigh, while Game 6 will come Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena (time TBD).