NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators have their first Stanley Cup Final win.
The Predators went on a tear early in the second period on their way to a 5-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 Saturday night, cutting Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
After Roman Josi scored a power-play goal with a slapshot at 5:51 to tie the game, 42 seconds later rookie Frederick Gaudreau beat Matt Murray clean to give Nashville a 2-1 lead. James Neal extended it to 3-1 near the end of the period. Neal beat Murray at the side of the net with 22.6 seconds remaining.
At 4:54 of the third, Craig Smith took advantage when Chris Kunitz’s attempted pass caromed off teammate Phil Kessel’s skate and right to Smith, who broke in alone to beat Murray for a 4-1 lead. Mattias Ekholm made it 5-1 at 13:10.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring at 2:46 of the first when Jake Guentzel scored his 13th goal of the playoffs on a rebound of Ian Cole’s shot, putting the puck past Pekka Rinne to temporarily silence the Bridgestone Arena crowd that was watching the first Cup Final game ever played in Nashville. Guentzel scored on Pittsburgh’s second shot of the game.
Rinne’s status was a question mark after the veteran goaltender allowed eight goals to the Penguins in Games 1 and 2. He became just the fourth goalie in NHL history to do that.
Predators coach Peter Laviolette was noncommittal about his goalie choice as he typically is with lineup decisions. But Rinne was first off the ice after the team’s morning skate. When he took the ice before the opening faceoff, fans chanted “Pek-ka! Pek-ka!” in support. Rinne came into the Cup Final as a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Carl Hagelin was back in the Penguins’ lineup. Hagelin replaced injured center Nick Bonino, who took a puck off his left ankle in Game 2 on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. He was called a game-time decision, but not practicing Friday and getting around on crutches in a walking boot made it clear Bonino was a long shot at best.
Hagelin, who missed more than a month with a lower-body injury before making his playoff debut in the second round, had been a healthy scratch.