Rinne Shines, New Star Emerges As Preds Even Series With 4-1 Win

Posted at 11:41 PM, Jun 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-06 00:41:55-04

The chants echoed down from another rocking Bridgestone Arena crowd midway through the second period, similar to a European soccer match. Each chant getting louder and louder as the Predators made each successive push.

The first cheers came for Pekka Rinne, the team's biggest star. The second chants for the team's most unlikely hero, Frederick Gaudreau, who scored the game-winner for the second consecutive game in a 4-1 Predators' win that evens this best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final series at two games a piece.

"Pekka, Pekka, Pekka," exhalted the gold-clad crowd as Rinne stopped successive high-quality shots, first turning away red-hot Jake Guentzel on a one-timer in front of the net, then stoning Chris Kunitz on a breakaway less than a minute later.

Less than 20 seconds after that the Predators regained the lead, though it took some time to figure that out. Gaudreau sliding a wrap around shot on goal only for it to seemingly be turned away by Matt Murray's stick. Moments later, play was stopped and the crowd erupted again.

When the replay showed that the puck had clearly crossed the goal line and the referee announce it was a "good goal", the arena reached a new level of noise.

"Freddie, Freddie, Freddie," came the chants for the team's fourth-line center who started the season in Milwaukee and played just nine games for the Predators in the regular season.

Gaudreau still does not have a permanent stall in the team's locker room, forced to dress at a makeshift locker made around a chair.

"We'll see what we can do," Captain Mike Fisher said when asked after the game if Gaudreau was deserving of a locker stall. "I think he's earned it."

Gaudreau entered the lineup for good in game five of the Anaheim series as a seemingly unknown replacement after star Ryan Johansen's season-ending injury. Now he leads the Preds with three goals in the Stanley Cup Final, becoming just the second player in NHL history to get his first three career goals in a Stanley Cup Final.

The lead looked in jeopardy a short time later when Sidney Crosby, who scored on a breakaway in the first period, took a puck and streaked towards the goal again. Only this time he was denied not once but twice by a sliding Rinne. Then as the puck rolled back towards a vacant crease, Rinne dove from seemingly out of nowhere to turn away a Guentzel putback attempt.

That was the loudest it got. No chant, just sheer pandemonium. The moment Superman seemingly found his cape in the middle of a hockey goal.

Truth be told, Rinne, the Predators' super hero, never lost it. Rumors of his demise and benching were largely made up by the enormous media contingent covering the Stanley Cup Final that seemingly forgot his Conn Smythe-worthy postseason after two sub-par games games to start the series in Pittsburgh.

But now his confidence is back and Smashville roared in approval with each of his 23 saves. Rinne stopped 50 of the 52 shots he saw in the two games in Nashville, returning to form as the most impactful player on the ice.

When Mike Fisher's diving pass led to a Viktor Arvidsson breakaway goal with just under 7:00 left in the second period, game four was all but over given how locked in Rinne was.

Filip Forsberg's empty-net score with 3:23 remaining was his team-leading ninth goal of the playoffs and snapped his mini-slump to start the Stanley Cup Final.

The Predators improved to 9-1 at home in this postseason, winners of 13 of their last 14 playoff games dating back to last year in this madhouse, which is now guaranteed a game six with the Cup in the building for one team or the other next Sunday night.

It's hard to imagine the Penguins beating the Preds here. Not with Rinne playing like that, and not with unknown call-ups blossoming into stars over night.

The only problem is that now this series shifts back to Pittsburgh, where the Predators still need to win at least once to take home the Cup.