The Penguins went down to Nashville and got themselves Penguin’d. After a first-period goal by — you guessed it — Jake Guentzel, the Pens took a 1-0 lead into the second. Then the skate blades fell off.
Two goals within a minute of each other, then another goal scored on an impossible angle? A team that totally got outplayed in the first period capitalizing on a power play and then taking advantage of a goalie letting in pillow-soft goals? Horrible turnovers which led to several breakaways, one of which went past a goalie who had absolutely no chance?
Yeah, the Penguins got Penguin’d.
Pittsburgh had more energy in the first period of Game 3 than in perhaps any stretch this entire series, the short barrage of goals in the first two games notwithstanding. But for the majority of the first two games, the Predators were the better team on the ice, if not the scoreboard. When Guentzel scored 2:46 into Game 3, it looked like the Penguins were finally getting a hot start to a Stanley Cup final game at just the right time. The entire first half, despite being outshot 12-6 by the Predators, the Penguins looked faster than their opponents, chasing lose pucks and creating chances while giving Nashville little chance to create traffic in front of Matt Murray.
And then the second period happened.
Roman Jossi scored a power play goal after capitalizing on a Justin Schultz mistake, slapping a shot past a screened Murray. Before the Nashville PA guy could even announce the goal, another one went in — almost exactly how Pittsburgh won the first two games — as Frederick Gaudreau blew a wrister past Murray just 42 seconds after the game got tied.
That’s a bad goal, so while Murray was standing on his head in the first two games and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne was less a Finnish wall like in first three rounds and more a piece of Swiss cheese, it was the other way around in the second period of Game 3. Pittsburgh had 13 shots and Rinne didn’t let any past him, while Murray allowed three goals on 16 Predators shots. Three? Yeah, after the two in less than a minute, another goal that was eerily similar to the kind of crap goals the Penguins loved scoring earlier in the series happened to them.
With seconds left in the period, the puck banked off the back of the net and somehow slid to the side of the goal, happening to land right on James Neal’s stick who buried the improbably goal. Ugh.
The second period was so bad, the NBC cameras caught this happening.
Let’s be clear: It is never okay to wear a jersey with your own name on it. Full stop. But if it were ever okay — note: it is not — it would be way less okay to wear that jersey with your own name on it to the Stanley Cup Final. The lady who wore the Atlanta Thrashers jersey to Game 3 has more credibility than these two. And yet, they’re jumping up and down like lifelong fans. This is what happens when you give up three goals in a period. Remember this feeling, Penguins. Remember it good.
Sadly, this video wasn’t shown on a loop during the second intermission, because the third period got worse.
Less than five minutes into the third period, Chris Kunitz literally skated into Phil Kessel, allowing Craig Smith to take the puck and skate in on Murray, burying his shot for a 4-1 lead.
Then another catfish came out. Yeah, the Pens got in-game catfished again. Still, at 4-1 the game wasn’t over, but Rinne stayed strong, saving several shots in the third before Mattias Ekholm buried the fifth for Nashville in the top corner, stick side, over Murray. The game was all over but for the skirmishes, and there were a lot of them in the waning minutes.
The second half of the third period saw 15 penalties, including five 10-minute misconducts, in some effort to clean up the game and get players off the ice virtually unscathed. It didn’t really work.
For the Penguins, nothing much worked after the first period. And questions are starting to rise if the Pens are really as in control of this series as the win totals indicate.
So, yeah, Saturday night was bad, but whatever, it’s just one game. Only, it’s really three games. Outside of maybe the span of two periods this series, the Penguins have been outplayed. For the first time this series they were outscored, and now it’s hard to look at Nashville as anything but favorites to win Game 4 at home Monday.
Then what? Well, The Penguins still do hold home ice until Nashville manages to win a game at the Paint Can. And as poorly as they’ve played, the Pens are still up 2-1. Mike Emrick started the NBC telecast with the old cliché that a series doesn’t start until the road team wins. So don’t fret, Pens, as bad as you’ve played, it’s not even like the Stanley Cup even has even started yet.
Maybe it’ll start Monday, when the Pens are back on the Preds’ home ice. Win or lose, they better play better than they did the final 40 minutes Saturday.