Net play is key for Cup run
Helene Elliott says a big focus of Game 5 will be the play of Rinne, Murray.
PITTSBURGH — The goaltender whose job security was doubted two games into the Stanley Cup Final is now being hailed as a season-saving hero, while the goalie credited with the first two wins has been subjected to speculation that he might not start Game 5 on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
This postseason tournament has been filled with abrupt ups and downs and no carryover of momentum from one game to the next. That pattern has continued into the Final, especially in net.
Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who gave up eight goals on 36 shots in losing the first two games (a .777 save percentage), gave up merely two goals on 52 shots (.962) as the Predators tied the series at home.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who stopped 60 of 64 shots he faced in the first two games (.938), gave up eight goals on 58 shots in the third and fourth games (.862).
Predators coach Peter Laviolette sensibly stuck with Rinne after the Finn’s flawed performances and was rewarded with two exceptional efforts. The crowd stuck with Rinne too, chanting his name in warmups in a goose bumpraising show of support.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, asked about making a change in net, indicated he trusts Murray. It wouldn’t make sense to switch to Marc-Andre Fleury, who hasn’t played since May 17.
“We didn’t lose the game [Monday] because of our goaltending,” Sullivan said.
So here they are, each team having defended home ice twice, the Predators trying to be the first to sustain momentum and the Penguins trying to take control before the caravan heads back to Nashville, where the Predators are 9-1 in the playoffs. The Cup will be at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday, to be paraded or to be packed in its case for a Game 7 on June 14 in Pittsburgh.
“Two out of three now. It’s pedal down,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said Wednesday. “We’re ready.”
They appear poised to make their move after outscoring the Penguins 9-2 in the last two games and holding Pittsburgh’s power play scoreless for the third straight game. Nashville’s mobile defense corps has proved to be gritty too, and if Roman Josi’s talents weren’t common knowledge before the Final, they are now.
“As long as I’ve been there, our D men, they’ve been the core of our team,” said Rinne, who was drafted by the Predators in the eighth round in 2004 and made his NHL debut in the 2005-06 season. “This group is really special.”
So is he, a quality goalie who endured many seasons when the Predators lacked size or physicality or scoring. They’re a complete team now and two wins from their first championship.
“I’ve been playing for a long time, never had this opportunity. It means everything to me right now,” Rinne said. “Just living my dream right now.”
The defending champion Penguins spoke about building on the positives they took from Game 4. Among the encouraging signs Sullivan saw was improved puck movement on their power play.
“There are a lot of good things we liked,” he said, but he acknowledged they pressed in the third period and as a result gave up too many chances off the rush.
Murray also had a positive mind-set.
“We probably had our best game of the series last game, so we did a lot of good things and we were out-chancing them, so that was good,” he said. “The puck just wasn’t going in for us. So sticking to our game plan is important.”
As for himself, “I thought I was OK,” he said. “Not great, but I thought I was pretty good in Game 4. I think if I make the save on that breakaway [by Viktor Arvidsson for Nashville’s third goal], then it’s a different game, but all in all I thought I played pretty well.”
He will have to be better. So will forwards Phil Kessel (no goals in six games) and Evgeni Malkin, who had two shots on goal in Game 4 after taking none in Game 3, and was minus-three defensively in the two games. “They play hard every shift. But I believe my team. I believe myself. We have great team,” Malkin said.
He also said the Penguins should try to wear down the Predators’ defensemen, specifically Josi and P.K. Subban.
“We need to spend more time in the offensive zone. They get tired, for sure,” Malkin said. “They play a ton of minutes, Subban and Josi. They play like 25 minutes every game. They’re tired for sure.
“Last game I think we play good. We have so much scoring chances, but Rinne playing very well. If we play same way like that we will have great chance to win.”
Maybe not, if Rinne plays the same way he did in Game 4.
“We know who we’re facing, in their building. We’ve got to be ready to be at our best,” Fisher said. “We know it’s an exciting challenge. I think you’ll see we’ll be ready for it.”
PEKKA RINNE, left, was sharp in goal as Predators tied series in Nashville. The mind-set of Penguins’ Matt Murray is positive as play returns to Pittsburgh.