The Pittsburgh Penguins retained the Stanly Cup last night, defeating the Nashville Predators 2–0 and taking the series in six games. The Penguins become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s to win back-to-back titles. Sydney Crosby solidified his place as one of the all-time greats as he was selected MVP and, despite not scoring a lot himself, was clearly one of the dominant players on the ice throughout the series.
There seemed to be a decided home-ice advantage in this series as both teams only won in their own building until last night’s game. In Game 1, the Predators appeared to score first but the goal was waived off on an off-side challenge that was seemingly too close to overrule. The Penguins then scored the next three goals, helped by a horrendous call that gave them a 5 on 3 power play, and the game seemed done. But the Preds rallied to tie it up before Jake Guentzel’s late goal won it for the Pens.
Game 2 once again started with a Nahsville goal, this one allowed, on a beautiful individual effort by Pontus Aberg. But the Penguins scored three goals in the first four minutes of the third to win 4–1.
Game 3 move to Nashville and the Predators, down 2–0, could not afford to lose a game at home. Again, the visiting team scored first and the Predators responded with three second period goals to win 5–1. In Game 4, the teams traded first period goals but two second period goals and great goaltending by Pekka Rinni allowed the Preds to tie up the series 2–2.
So heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5, the Predators had all the momentum and promptly collapsed, giving up three first period goals. Peter Laviolette made, in my opinion, a tactical error by conceding the game at that point by pulling Rinne for the final two periods. The Preds had come back from a three goal deficit in Pittsburgh before but that move was basically a concession. In the end it was a 6–0 thrashing.
All of which took us to last night’s game in Nashville. It was a tight-checking affair from the start and by the end of the first period it looked like just one goal might be enough. Certainly the first goal would be critical. Early in the second period, Filip Forsberg took an off angle shot that Murray seemed to save but the puck rolled away him into the center of the crease in front of an empty net, where Colton Sisson dove in from the high slot to knock it in. But the referee was positioned in the one particular place where he couldn’t see the loose puck and blew the play dead. It was a horrendous call and there was no need for a quick whistle as there was no goalmouth scrum and delaying and moving his position for just a second longer would have allowed him to see the loose puck.
The refs clearly knew the call was horrendous and did as much as they could to let the Predators get the first goal, letting some potential Predator penalties go and calling as much as they could on the Penguins, including putting them down two men at one point. But the goalies had taken over as both Murray and Rinne were spectacular.
By the start of the third period, it was clear this would be a one goal game. And it came with just a minute and a half left when former Predator Patric Hornqvist took a screen shot that missed the net and rebounded off the backboards and banked it in off of Rinne for the game and Cup winner. The Penguins added an empty net goal a short time later.
For the NHL, it was a horrendous way for the season to end. The officiating throughout the playoffs has been substandard at best. There were far too many games where the calls were brutally inconsistent and no one has a clue what constitutes goalie interference anymore. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers. But this call, which was such an egregious miss as opposed to a judgement call in such a tight and important game, will go down in NHL history as one of the worst.
For the Predators, it was a fabulous season but tempered a bit by what could have been. They just couldn’t seem to get the calls or the bounces to win the series. They had a couple of own-goals bounce off their own defenseman and in many games actually out-chanced the Penguins but could not score. Pekka Rinne was not the brick wall he had been in the prior series but that level of superb play was probably unsustainable.
The Penguins completed a remarkable run to win back-to-back Cups. It is a testament to the ownership, management, coach, and leadership on the team. Remember, the Pens were playing without their arguably best defenseman, Kris Letang, the entire playoffs. Whenever a player went down with injury, another would just step right in and they never missed a beat. Steve Sullivan made all the right moves, switching back to Murray at just the right time and inserting Hornqvist, who hadn’t seen a lot of ice time but ended up scoring the winning goal. Jake Guentzel tied the record for playoff points by a rookie. And Matt Murray arguable outplayed Pekka Rinne which may have been the determining factor in this series.
It was an awesome accomplishment for the Pens. Too bad it will be overshadowed by one of the most horrendous calls in Stanley Cup history.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on June 12, 2017.