The Nashville Predators took two of two in front of the home crowd to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece. Now, they'll take the show on the road in search of a victory in Pittsburgh in Game Five of the Final at PPG Paints Arena.
The Preds won Game Three by a 5-1 final before following that up with a 4-1 victory in Game Four, meaning Nashville and Pittsburgh have yet to lose on home ice in the Final. It now comes down to a best-of-three for the Cup, meaning Nashville is simply going to have to win a game on the road, a fact Preds head Coach Peter Laviolette addressed on Tuesday.
"We have to win a road game - there's no other way around it," Laviolette said. "For three series, we've been able to do that. We've been able to find some success on the road. We'll look to go into Pittsburgh [and take] Game Five. We have to at some point. We have no home ice in this series, so we have to go in and steal one at some point."
After an empty-net goal in Game Four, Filip Forsberg continues to lead the Predators in scoring with nine goals and 16 points in the playoffs, followed by Roman Josi with 14, then Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson with 13 points each. Josi, Colton Sissons and James Neal have six goals each, while Frederick Gaudreau has three goals in the Cup Final thus far. Pekka Rinne has only allowed one goal in each of his last two starts, posting 14 wins and a .932 save percentage overall.
Evgeni Malkin's 26 points lead the Penguins, followed by Sidney Crosby with 24, then Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel with 20 each. Crosby tallied the lone goal for Pittsburgh in Game Four, while Guentzel failed to capitalize for the first time in the Final. Matt Murray has lost two consecutive playoff games for the first time in his career, seeing his goals-against average rise to 2.08 overall.
Video: Preds seek first-ever lead in the Stanley Cup Final
As the Predators look for their third consecutive win to put Pittsburgh on the brink, here are three things to watch for:
An unlikely hero has emerged for the Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, an undrafted, 24-year-old forward from Quebec.
Frederick Gaudreau scored the game-winning goals in Games Three and Four of the Final for the Preds, his second and third goals overall of the series. Those three goals are also his first career goals in the NHL, a notable feat for the rookie to attain.
Only one other player in NHL history scored each of his first three career goals (regular season and playoffs) in the Stanley Cup Final when Chicago's John Harms did it in 1944 against Montreal. Plus, Gaudreau became just the third rookie to collect consecutive game-winning goals in the Stanley Cup Final since the NHL took sole possession of the trophy in 1926-27 - and the second to do so in this series (following Jake Guentzel). The other was Roy Conacher, who notched the winner for the Bruins in Games Three, Four and Five in 1939 versus Toronto.
Video: Wilson, Josi, Zolnierczyk and Ellis preview Game 5
Play Our Game:
Both teams are now just two wins away from the ultimate prize, and it may seem as though the Predators have the momentum after two straight wins. However, defenseman P.K. Subban was quick to caution that he doesn't believe in momentum in the playoffs, and while the two victories have put the Preds in a desirable spot ahead of Game Five, they're not about to take anything for granted.
Rather, they'll continue to look to do what made them successful in Games Three and Four, and almost delivered at least one win in Pittsburgh as well.
"You can't overthink it," Subban said of heading back on the road. "We figured out our identity and the way we need to play and we found a lot of success on the road in these types of situations. We're going to have to do those little things, key things, blocking shots, getting pucks in and out, and making sure that you're not extending your shifts - keeping it short so everybody can stay fresh and we can play that up-tempo game that we want to play."
Video: Laviolette talks Stanley Cup Final forward matchup
Stress may be at an all-time high for fans of the Predators, especially once the puck drops, but if it's affecting the players, they certainly aren't showing it.
After returning home from Pittsburgh down 0-2 in the series, goaltender Pekka Rinne remarked that the Preds were still in the Stanley Cup Final, and life wasn't all that bad. A few days later, there are more reasons to have that outlook, but it's been an important key in all of this for Nashville - never too high, never too low and just embrace the moment.
"This is obviously the main goal at the start of the season [for all 30 teams]," forward Filip Forsberg said. "The goal is to make the playoffs and win the Cup, and now we're one of two teams to have the chance for it. I mean, we're playing hockey in June and it's sunny outside. Life is good."
Take It In:
Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final begins tonight at 7 p.m. CT and can be seen on NBC in the United States, CBC in Canada or heard on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.
The Predators are hosting a Game Five watch party presented by Tennessee Lottery at Bridgestone Arena, with tickets available for a $15 donation to the Nashville Predators Foundation. More information on the watch party at the Arena, as well as in Nashville, can be found here.