The Stanley Cup Final is now a goaltending series. After a bad start, Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has upped the ante. His diving stop on Jake Guentzel will echo through Predators history, should Nashville hoist the Cup.
The Penguins need a great goaltending performance, moving forward. And it must come from Matt Murray.
It is possible Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan could again swerve the Penguins fanbase, media and opponents by changing his goaltender for Game 5. Sullivan could choose to go back to Marc-Andre Fleury, who was the Penguins Conn Smythe favorite before being benched for Matt Murray in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. But Sullivan will not make that move. Nope.
Sullivan has tethered the Penguins to the 23-year-old mental bedrock that is Murray. And so the Penguins will rise or fall, based on the performance of Murray.
The Penguins will need Murray to win, perhaps steal, at least one game.
In this playoff run, the damaged Penguins have relied on their goaltender to outplay his counterpart. Fleury needed to outplay Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby, and did. Murray neutralized Craig Anderson in the Eastern Conference Final, even as Anderson became nearly unbeatable late in the series.
The formula continued through the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final. A shaky (okay, very shaky) Pekka Rinne handed the Penguins a pair of games, Game 1 and 2.
Then, the suddenly spectacular Rinne made saves which will go down in Predators history in both Games 3 and 4, Murray was good if not a little soft in those games. Not coincidentally, the Predators won Games 3 and 4 by comfortable margins.
The Penguins defense, depleted and outmatched, cannot nullify enough scoring chances to insulate Murray, as they did one year ago. The Predators aggressive play and willingness to crash the low offensive zone with superior numbers will produce many offensive chances.
The Penguins appear to be solving parts of the Predators attack. They created offensive chances. When asked about trading chances (*ahem), Sidney Crosby told reporters he felt the Penguins had a few more chances than their opponent.
And there it is—goaltending will likely decide this best-of-three series. The Penguins won the Eastern Conference series with a distinct goaltending edge. However, Rinne has upped the ante with MVP worthy performances in Games 3 and 4.
Murray absorbed rebounds well and made strong saves from scrambles in front. But the Predators made the big netminder move laterally on Frederick Gaudreau‘s wrap-around goal and have picked on Murray’s glove side with success.
Gaudreau, who is in the lineup because of the absence of Predators top center Ryan Johansen and doesn’t even have a locker stall, has three goals in six games played. According to the Predators PR, he is the first NHL player since the 1944 (John Harms) to score his first three goals in the Stanley Cup Final.
In fact, the Predators scored eight goals on the Penguins and Murray (and one empty netter) combined in Games 3 and 4. A few of the markers were soft, but that is as much of an indictment on the Penguins play as it is the goaltender. The Predators continued to generate great chances, even with leads.
So, Murray will need to up his game for the Penguins, or there will be another huge party on Broadway in couple weeks. And like so many people who participate in a party on Broadway, the Penguins may hurt for a while afterward.
Odds and Ends
–I’m convinced the Bridgestone Arena is using the PA to amp crowd noise. Facts–the arena plays warm-up and in-game music at 110-112dbs, as measured by my own device. At the height of the crowd mania in Game 4, I believe my radio trained ears heard the pops and cracks of over-modulation. Lastly, the sound levels are never shown in the arena, unlike every other arena in which I’ve covered games.
Why would the “record holder” not show the sound level? The loudest the sound meter (on my iPhone) hit was about 114dbs. 114 is a great number and the crowd is engaged for a full 60 minutes. People don’t leave 10 minutes early to hit the bars or beat traffic.
However, I believe I call “bunk” on the 130dbs claim, at least achieved organically. However, the Predators are welcome to prove it.
–If Phil Kessel doesn’t improve his play, will Penguins fans begin to demand more next season?
–I haven’t bagged Ron Hainsey via Twitter or on the website for good reason; he’s a good defenseman. Hainsey defends his own zone well and has a better breakout pass than Brian Dumoulin. Hainsey’s issues are when confronting the rush in the neutral zone or leaving the comfy confines of the low defensive zone.
–So is Olli Maatta, but I’ll only pick a few fights per day…