Nearly halfway into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, the jeers started to rain down in Bridgestone Arena. With the Predators trailing the Penguins, 1–0, Roman Josi had just tied the game on a beautiful slapshot that spun off the hand of Pittsburgh’s Carter Rowney and into the net. The crowd of 17,000-plus finally had its moment of release.
“Murrrrrrray. Murrrrrray. Murrrrray.”
The target of the chants — Matt Murray, the Penguins’ 23-year-old Stanley Cup–winning goalie — had a great first two games in the series, allowing only four goals with a .938 save percentage. But those two games were in Pittsburgh, and on Saturday night Murray was gleefully reminded that he was a bit farther south now.
“It’s all your fault!” the crowd chanted. “It’s all your fault!”
Murray would hear that taunt four more times over the course of the game, as the Predators took Saturday’s Game 3 by a 5–1 score and trimmed the Penguins’ series lead to 2–1. Nashville has now won eight of nine playoff games at home, thanks in part to a crowd atmosphere that blends collegiate ferocity with the collective rallying calls of European soccer fans. It’s something Nashville has been proudly cultivating for years, and Saturday was its first opportunity to flex on the NHL’s biggest stage.
That fan base and the atmosphere it creates explains why P.K. Subban felt comfortable stating that the Preds were “going to win the next game” after a disappointing Game 2 loss — and doubling down on that promise a day later. (P.K. is now 2–0 when making such promises.) But it wasn’t only the home-ice advantage that gave the team confidence. Aside from brief stretches in Games 1 and 2, Nashville had outplayed the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Subban, along with fellow defensemen Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis, had clamped down on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and though the Predators put up only one goal in Game 2, they peppered 38 shots on Murray.
In Game 3, Nashville’s offense broke through, and five different Predators players lit the lamp, including two (Ekholm and Craig Smith) who recorded their first goals of the 2017 playoffs. The Preds scored on all manner of shots: deflections, slapshots, quick snipes around the net, and a beautiful breakaway finish from Smith early in the third:
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne also returned to form in Game 3. After two outings in Pittsburgh in which he allowed eight goals on 36 shots (for an alarming .778 save percentage) and was pulled from Game 2, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said there was “no decision” about who he was going to start in net in Game 3. Rinne retained his spot and stopped 27 of 28 shots. Now it’s the Penguins who may find themselves embroiled in a budding goalie controversy.
By the time Smith scored just under five minutes into the third, the game was out of reach and a chippy contest got chippier with 15 penalties in the period, including five 10-minute misconducts. Following the final buzzer, Malkin was less than pleased walking to the locker room, and Subban got in Crosby’s ear, reminding him who has helped keep him goalless through three games (in case he didn’t already know):
After the game, among discussions of pressure and his pregame Listerine usage, Subban credited the fans for their role in the win, and issued another promise: “It’ll be even louder in Game 4.” See you on Monday night.