Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
NASHVILLE — Two during the pregame warmups. Two more after Martina McBride crooned the National Anthem. One more during a stoppage in the third period.
Five catfish, one for every goal the Nashville Predators scored in their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals victory on a loud Saturday night in Bridgestone Arena.
Five different players scored the goals and Pekka Rinne bounced back from two subpar performances in Pittsburgh with 27 saves as the Predators bounced the Penguins 5-1 to cut the defending Cup champions’ series lead to 2-1.
Game 4 is Monday night, with Nashville getting a chance to even a series that looked like it was going to be all Pittsburgh after 5-3 and 4-1 wins during Games 1 and 2, respectively.
But the catfish-slinging crowd, dotted with numerous celebrities, seemed to spur an uptick in the Predators’ quality of play. All five goals happened in the final two periods as Nashville married its series-long advantage in even strength shot attempts with actual production.
“It was unbelievable,” Rinne said of the standing-room only crowd, which was chanting and standing during warmups. “I’ve never seen anything like that. It was a good showcase for the city and the fans.”
And a good one for Rinne, too, who some felt would be benched in favor of Juuse Saros for Game 3. A Conn Smythe Trophy favorite going into the series, Rinne stopped only 28 of 36 shots in the first two games, a .778 save percentage.
However, coach Peter Laviolette never seriously entertained a change. After Rinne ceded Jake Guentzel’s 13th goal of the postseason on the Penguins’ second shot at 2:46 of the first period, he returned to All-Star mode.
Shortly after the Predators took a 2-1 lead with two goals in 42 seconds early in the second period, Rinne weathered a short storm. Pittsburgh created a pair of point-blank chances. Rinne snuffed out wristers from Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz, further fueling the audience.
“It was a key moment,” Rinne said of those saves. “I think they connected on the same play last game, so I was aware of it. The first couple of games, it’s been a battle. But you just focus on the next save and remind yourself it’s the Finals and life’s pretty good.”
It was really good for Roman Josi prior to and after Rinne’s key stops. Josi capped Nashville’s first power play at 5:51 of the second with a one-timer from the right circle for his sixth marker. Then he provided the secondary helper on Frederick Gaudreau’s second of the playoffs 42 seconds later that put the Predators ahead for good.
For good measure, Josi hit the scoresheet a third time in the period. His shot went behind the net. Viktor Arvidsson collected it and fed James Neal, whose shot at the right post caromed off Matt Murray’s leg at 19:37 for a 3-1 advantage.
The three-point period gave Josi 14 in 19 playoff matches, second most on the roster.
“I think part of it is our system,” he said of his production. “It allows the defensemen to jump into the play.”
As the Penguins went into chase mode, Nashville took advantage of mistakes. Craig Smith converted a turnover at center ice into a breakaway goal at 4:54 of the third period for a 4-1 lead. Mattias Ekholm capped the scoring with a power-play tally at 13:10.
They became the 18th and 19th Predators to score goals in the postseason, exemplifying the “next man up” mentality they’ve adopted after losing top center Ryan Johansen and top six forward Kevin Fiala during this playoff run.
“Everyone is jumping in,” Smith said. “It’s a treat to watch these guys come in and excel.”
Murray, who stopped 60 of 64 shots in the first two games, made 28 saves in a losing cause.
“Do we have to be better? Yeah, we know we have to be better,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think our team is capable of that. It’s a seven-game series. We knew this was going to be a hard-fought battle.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh C Nick Bonino, who was struck by a P.K. Subban slapper in the ankle in Game 2, was scratched. Carl Hagelin drew into the lineup in his place. … Bridgestone Arena became the 40th different venue to host a Stanley Cup Finals game Saturday night. … Other notable Penguins scratched were LW Tom Sestito, D Mark Streit and D Chad Ruhwedel. … Nashville scratches included LW Colin Wilson, RW Miikka Salomaki and LW Cody McLeod. RW PA Parenteau replaced McLeod, playing just his fourth game of this postseason.