After a historic Game Three went in favor of the home team, the Nashville Predators will try to replicate their efforts and tie the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
Down two games to none in the Final entering Saturday night, the Preds punched a 5-1 victory to claim their first Stanley Cup Final win in franchise history in the city's first Stanley Cup game that saw an estimated 50,000 fans turn out on Broadway for the celebration.
The energy was palpable inside too, as five different goal scorers found the back to the net for Nashville, including Frederick Gaudreau who became the 11th different Predators skater to record a game-winning goal in these playoffs.
"I think our guys have done a really good job of just stepping up," Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "Colton Sissons is a good example, [Pontus] Aberg, Gaudreau being able to contribute. Whoever is called upon, coming into the lineup, helping out… guys have done an amazing job of coming in and contributing."
Held pointless in the Final, Filip Forsberg continues to lead the Preds in scoring with eight goals and 15 points, followed by Roman Josi with 14 points and then a three-way tie between Colton Sissons, Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis with 12 each. Josi, Sissons and James Neal have six goals apiece, Ryan Ellis has potted five, while Craig Smith and Mattias Ekholm each recorded their first of the playoffs in Game Three. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has 13 wins in the postseason with a .931 save percentage.
Evgeni Malkin's 26 points lead the Penguins, followed by Sidney Crosby with 23 and then Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel with 20 each. Guentzel tallied his League-leading 13th of the playoffs in Game Three, his fourth goal of the Final. Goaltender Matt Murray suffered his second loss of the postseason in Game Three and owns a .930 save percentage.
Video: Preds depth likely to be key again in Game 4
As the Predators look to utilize home-ice advantage once more and even the Stanley Cup Final, here are three things to watch for:
Spread the Wealth:
Forward Craig Smith and defenseman Mattias Ekholm each potted their first goal of the 2017 postseason for Nashville in Game Three. When Ekholm blasted one home on the power play in the third period of Game Three, he became the 19th Nashville skater to score in the playoffs, putting the Preds just two shy of the NHL record of 21, set by Philadelphia in 1987.
Ekholm's goal simply speaks to the incredible depth the Preds possess, a quality undeniably necessary for any team to advance this far into the springtime. With players like Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala out with injuries, they've needed contributions from others. And that's what they've gotten.
"We felt comfortable regardless of the team we were playing or the line on the ice, regardless of who was interested in our lineup," Preds forward Harry Zolnierczyk said of the team's depth. "We could ultimately match up with whatever line was out there, and I think we proved that in the first series against Chicago, then St. Louis and Anaheim, and we're looking to do the same here against Pittsburgh."
Video: Neal, Ellis and Ekholm prepare for Game 4
Prior to the Stanley Cup Final even beginning, Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz remarked Nashville has "four Erik Karlsson's" on the blue line, a compliment to Nashville's top four defensemen, arguably the best group in the League.
In Game Three, they lived up to that hype, holding Penguins All-Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a single shot, the first time that's ever happened in a playoff game. There's something to be said for how the Preds have handled the future Hall-of-Famers, and they're doing themselves a huge favor the more they can slow the pair down.
"We're just trying to play them hard," Nashville blueliner Roman Josi said. "Our defense is built on skating and making the right decisions. I wouldn't say we're the toughest defense with a lot of big guys… but we're trying to skate well and get sticks in there and just play them hard. It's the playoffs, so when there's a chance to hit a guy, you want to hit the guy, but we're just trying to stay in position."
Video: Laviolette says Game 4 looms large for Nashville
It's been thrown around that a series really doesn't start - or end - until a home team loses a game. That has yet to occur in this Stanley Cup Final, and Nashville's home building certainly lived up to the hype with the entire hockey world seeing an atmosphere unlike any other.
It wasn't much of a surprise to Predators players during a game - they know what to expect from their home fans - but what they didn't expect was for the chanting and towel waving to begin in warmups.
"You come out and every seat is full and they're on their feet, they're cheering just as faces are coming on the screen and that's something new for me, as I'm sure that's something new for everyone in the hockey world," Zolnierczyk said. "It was a special night, and we were happy to come through for the fans."
The key now for the Preds is to find a way to harness that energy and prove they're capable of winning another at Bridgestone Arena to turn the Final into a best-of-three. If not, they'll be on the brink.
"It gives us confidence," Josi said of Game Three. "I think even after we were down 2-0, there was always confidence and belief in the room. There was never a doubt in the room, but it was a huge game for us. You can't deny that, and we're glad we got the win."
When You Go:
The pregame festivities begin at lunchtime today, starting with a Plaza Party presented by Lee Company at noon CT. Then, join the Preds for a pregame concert on Lower Broadway starting at 1 p.m. Rodney Atkins, Kip Moore and others are set to perform with the Music City Gives Back concert.
Doors to Bridgestone Arena begin to open at 4 p.m. CT in advance of the 7 p.m. game with all fans set to receive a Gold t-shirt and rally towel. Fans are asked to bring back their light-up bracelet from Game Three for the pregame introductions.
Visit the Preds Playoff Hub for more details.
Take It In:
Game Four is presented by Nissan and can be seen on NBC in the United States and CBC in Canada. 102.5 The Game and the Predators radio network has coverage on the airwaves, plus Fox Sports Tennessee has pre- and postgame coverage from Smashville.