Another game in Pittsburgh, more controversy. That seems to be how it goes for the Nashville Predators.
The Penguins took a 3-2 series lead on the Preds Thursday night in a lopsided 6-0 victory.
Pekka Rinne received absolutely no help during his time in the crease, allowing three goals on just nine shots but none of the three could be pinned on him. If you disagree, just look at the fact Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette pulled Rinne after just a single period. A clear indication that he was trying to wake up his team who had come out lackluster and without passion.
Moments before this screen cap above, Rinne had a clean line of sight on Justin Schultz’s shot from the blueline. As a goaltender — especially from that distance and that angle — that’s all you can ask for. Austin Watson decides to try and block the chance in the slot which possibly causes multiple issues. The first is that his body can change the trajectory of the puck. The second being he could screen his goaltender while he’s tracking the shot. With Ryan Ellis in the box, the Penguins tallied on this play to go up 1-0 just 1:31 into the game.
For their second goal on Rinne, Bryan Rust fired a backhand into the upper corner to give Pittsburgh an early 2-0 lead. Goaltenders will tell you that backhanders are some of the hardest shots to track because they could come off the stick at any point and at any angle. But, even beyond Rust’s shot selection, he beat defenseman Matt Irwin cleanly into the zone and even got generous separation on him. That separation allowed him the real estate to utilize his backhand and put the Pens up 2-0.
The third goal was a laser of a wrister by superstar Evgeni Malkin. On the entry, Viktor Arvidsson covered Phil Kessel perfectly. Kessel noticed Malkin joining him late and gave him a drop pass. At first glance it may seem like a sniper’s goal and he beat Rinne clean. However, when you play it back and take a second look at it, it’s clear that Yannick Weber’s stick helped the puck change direction just enough to fool Rinne, putting Pittsburgh up 3-0 at the end of the opening period.
When the teams came out for the second frame, Juuse Saros had replaced Rinne in the net and, without any offensive push whatsoever, the outcome of Game 5 was all formality at that point.
To add insult to injury, Nashville lost Ryan Ellis to injury on a rather innocent looking play (did not return; possibly cautionary considering in the one-sided affair) and Sidney Crosby became the new Ryan Kesler in Music City due to punching PK Subban’s head into the ice multiple times.
Despite the League’s emphasis on head injuries, Crosby received just a minor penalty for holding (Subban was also given a minor for holing on this play) and nothing further. Further enraging the hockey world, NBC analyst Mike Milbury said Subban “had it coming” which is about as ridiculous of a comment one could fathom.
Then, in the final minute of the contest, Colton Sissons was rung up for a cross checking Olli Maatta in the face and had a match penalty tacked on which carries an automatic suspension upon review from the League.
No matter your view about whether Crosby should be fined or suspended for his multiple head shots on Subban, no matter your view on Sissons and his match penalty and no matter your view on play not stopping when a water bottle was thrown on the ice during play, the bottom line is none of those are reasons the Preds lost the game. They’re all frustrating, certainly, but in no way shape or form are they the reason Nashville is one loss away from losing the series.
In the search for positives, the three teams that were blitzed by six goals or more in these playoffs all responded with a win in their next game, Rinne is 13-1 on home ice in his last 14 playoff games and, of course, there’s the best home ice advantage in the League as the Preds are 9-1 in these playoffs.
Of course, all four of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup’s (1991, 1992, 2009 and 2016) were all won on the road so something has to give. We’ll see which it is on Sunday night.
UPDATE (11:40am): Sissons will not be suspended for his cross check to Maatta.