Penguins need a bounceback from their top guns

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan maintained a calm veneer as he answered the question, but there was an edge inside his words Saturday night when asked about being outplayed for most of the first three games of the Stanley Cup Finals by the Nashville Predators.

“We’ve been outplayed in stretches, you know,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone should discount the goals we’ve scored, the counterattack game that we have.”

That counterattack game wasn’t quite as effective Saturday night, though, as Nashville fed off its raucous crowd in Bridgestone Arena for a 5-1 win that cut its series deficit to 2-1. Five different Predators scored goals and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves in his first win over Pittsburgh.

Worse yet from a Penguins perspective, they got no shots on goal from either of their star centers — Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. It’s believed to be the first playoff game during the duo’s careers that neither one got a shot to net.

Related: After so-so regular season, Preds playing much better defense in playoffs

If Pittsburgh is to become the first road team to win in the Cup Finals in Game 4 on Monday night, it can’t have another zero-shot game from its cornerstone players.

“I thought they had some looks,” Sullivan said. “They had some attempts. They didn’t hit the net, obviously. Those are important guys for us. We want them to get pucks on the net because they obviously have the ability to score.”

Sullivan said one way to get Crosby and Malkin going is to start doing more with the power play. It was powerless in Game 3, failing in three chances. At times, it appeared Nashville had more zone time and chances while short-handed.

Read more: Crosby denies chirp, says Subban just ‘likes the attention’

The Predators were certainly the better team in even-strength play, as has been the case for most of the series. When they finally stayed out of the penalty box during most of the last two periods of Game 3 and buried their chances, they scored three times in the second period and twice more in the third.

Nashville also got the benefit of puck luck that worked for the Penguins in the first two games. Roman Josi‘s tying goal in the second period hit Carter Rowney‘s stick before beating Matt Murray. James Neal‘s goal late in the second period caromed off Murray’s left ankle from a bad angle.

“I don’t want to blame the first two losses on puck luck,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said, “but it didn’t bounce our way all the time. Today it bounced our way a little more. We found looks we liked. Just a good game offensively.”

One of those looks was Frederick Gaudreau‘s second goal of the Finals, 42 seconds after Josi’s equalizer. Gaudreau, who landed a spot in the lineup after Ryan Johansen (thigh) was declared out of the playoffs during the Western Conference Finals, didn’t score in nine regular-season games.

But Gaudreau has displayed the scoring touch of his namesake in Calgary, Johnny, during the Finals. His one-timer in the third period tied Game 1 and his wrister to Murray’s glove side unlocked a tie for good Saturday night.

“We saw that he had great skill,” Neal said. “I think he’s surprising everybody how good he is. He’s calm and collected.”

Related: From Calder Cup to Stanley Cup Final, Gaudreau’s had a wild ride

The Buzzer: Job of the Hutton

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Players of the Night

  • Carter Hutton has quietly been playing well when used (sparingly) by the St. Louis Blues, but he stepped into the spotlight on Saturday, guiding his team to a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets.

The high-powered Jets fired 48 shots on goal in this one, yet none beat Hutton, who nabbed the ninth shutout of his solid career. The 31-year-old bumped his save percentage up to a whopping .949 so far in 2017-18. He set a Blues record in doing so.

  • On Friday, Jack Eichel collected a hat trick and an assist in a losing effort. Gabriel Landeskog upped the ante one night later – literally – by scoring three goals and two assists in a game his Avalanche managed to lose anyway.

As much attention as Nathan MacKinnon is grabbing (rightfully, as he added two goals to his impressive season so far), this marks the second hat trick of the season for Landeskog. Not bad with it still being 2017, and all.

This was a pretty nasty game between the Avalanche and Lightning, at least at times.

Some key highlights

Technically, you can spell overtime without Alex Ovechkin

(Ovechkin’s already in select GWG company.)

Shayne Gostisbehere scored both of Philly’s goals, but the antics between Wayne Simmonds and Ben Bishop were the real highlight here:

Speaking of Nathan MacKinnon, this is something else:

Mathew Barzal to Jordan Eberle a combination that torments Darcy Kuemper in overtime and Peter Chiarelli, always:

Finally, Jonathan Gibson flashes the glove in defeat:

Factoids

The Lightning keep piling up different milestones and accomplishments, with Mikhail Sergachev ranking among those today (as Tampa Bay won its seventh in a row):

The cold weather didn’t slow Erik Karlsson down (more on that outdoor game here):

Pekka Rinne‘s really been rattling off some milestones lately.

Scores

Oilers 3, Wild 2
Rangers 3, Bruins 2 (OT)
Blues 2, Jets 0
Islanders 4, Kings 3 (OT)
Hurricanes 2, Blue Jackets 1
Flyers 2, Stars 1 (OT)
Senators 3, Canadiens 0
Capitals 3, Ducks 2 (OT)
Penguins 4, Coyotes 2
Lightning 6, Avalanche 5
Predators 2, Flames 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fight video: Brouwer makes Watson pay for Hathaway hit

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Austin Watson nodded with recognition after landing a questionable hit on Garnet Hathaway on Saturday, as he understood why Troy Brouwer demanded immediate retribution.

And, as you can see from the video above the headline, Brouwer got that bloody payback after beating Watson in a fight.

Watson (who isn’t that far removed from a two-game suspension) was ejected for his hit. It wasn’t the only nasty moment between the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames, either, as the toxic exchanges included Anthony Bitetto‘s ugly cross-check on Sam Bennett.

(Video or a GIF of Bitetto’s hit will be added if it becomes available.)

Some other penalties reduced some of the advantage for the Flames, but they ultimately still received serious man-advantage opportunities amid all of the violence, and they weren’t able to convert.

The best news is that Hathaway might end up being OK after a scary-looking check. He returned to the game during the third period.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Erik Johnson be suspended for ugly play on Namestnikov?

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Vladislav Namestnikov has been the Mikael Renberg equivalent on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Legion of Doom with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for much of this season, complimenting those two scorers with strong work of his own.

The Lightning were lighting up the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night, perhaps frustrating Erik Johnson and others. Whatever the explanation might be, it was a pretty ugly sight when Johnson slashed and then boarded Namestnikov, earning those two penalties plus a game misconduct.

Plenty of people believe that supplemental discipline would be merited for Johnson’s actions. For what it’s worth, “Names” did return to action in the third period. We’ve seen instances where players return only to be hurt anyway, so we’ll see if the nifty winger sees any delayed issues.

Johnson, 29, was suspended for two games by the NHL back in 2014, but has a generally clean history otherwise.

The Lightning ultimately ended up beating the Avalanche 6-5, as Nathan MacKinnon almost led a rally with two power-play goals.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators blank Canadiens in NHL 100 Classic

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One win, even in the frosty outdoors for the NHL 100 Classic, only means so much.

Still, the Ottawa Senators probably experienced some ice-cold relief on Saturday, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 during a tightly defended outdoor bout.

It was 0-0 for much of the game until Jean-Gabriel Pageau tipped an Erik Karlsson shot for the first goal with about five minutes remaining in the second period. Bobby Ryan then capitalized on a rough Jonathan Drouin turnover to make it 2-0, while an empty-netter iced the icy evening for Ottawa.

For a night, it was a fun time, and Karlsson reminded us what all the fuss is about, as he logged a ridiculous 32:55 of ice time. And he seemed to be having a good time doing it.

This night laid the “Canadian” on thick, with Bryan Adams performing during the event, and Gary Bettman posing for photos with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

via Getty

Weird, but OK then.

Generally speaking, things haven’t been that OK for the Senators lately. Such headaches did surface during this frosty-mug-on-ice event, as owner Eugene Melnyk inspired a #Melnykout hashtag on Twitter, not to mention icy barbs like these.

Fair criticisms about the Sens’ bigger picture aside, Ottawa looked nice tonight, with Karlsson shining and Craig Anderson pitching a rare shutout outdoors (shutoutdoors)?

Carey Price generated some nice saves of his own, but couldn’t will Montreal to win in his 10th consecutive start. The Habs rarely got things going against the Senators, seen most easily in Ottawa’s 38-28 advantage in shots on goal.

Nights like these make a bigger impact on fans’ memories and bottom lines, but this marks consecutive wins for the Senators either way. Considering the fact that the Senators hadn’t put back-to-back wins together since they faced the Avalanche in two contests in Sweden, it might not be a big deal, yet it’s far better than the nothing they’ve been coming up with far too often lately.

Also

In other news from the event, Mario Lemieux’s “five goals, five different ways” was named as the NHL’s greatest moment, voted by fans:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.