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.
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.
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.”