NASHVILLE — A sellout crowd Thursday in Nashville got a little taste of playoff hockey as Sidney Crosby and the Penguins pulled out an overtime win over the Predators, 4-3. It’s rare that you see so much animosity between teams from different conferences, but sparks did fly numerous times, and a controversial hit delivered by the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin was at the center of the heightened emotions.
Nashville wasted no time beating a previously-rattled Marc-Andre Fleury. David Legwand finished off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from Joel Ward and Jordin Tootoo. The goal came 53 seconds into the game, already the second time the Preds have scored in the opening minute of a game this season.
The Predators continued to sustain pressure shortly after Legwand’s goal, but couldn’t bury one past Fleury.
Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin appeared to have scored at the end of the first period, but after further review, it was determined that he did not beat the horn.
Early on in the second, Malkin jammed home a loose puck to the tie the game at one apiece. Pekka Rinne thought he had the puck secured, but instead the puck was sitting right next to him for Malkin to tap in.
Nashville snapped their power play drought when Cody Franson’s rocket from the blueline found its way past Fleury. The goal gave them a 2-1 lead 8:03 into the second period.
Only 25 seconds later, Malkin found himself in some controversy. With Tootoo’s back to the play, ‘Geno clearly left his feet to deliver a hit. Kevin Klein came over to let him know what he felt about the play, then subsequently fought Deryk Engelland. It’s fair to say that if Tootoo had made that hit on Malkin, we’d be talking about a looming suspension.
With 6:09 remaining in the second, Crosby caught Rinne cheating a bit and banked in the tying goal from a bad angle off his rear. The period ended with the game knotted at two.
Similarly to Saturday when the Caps stormed Nashville in the third period, Pittsburgh did the same Thursday. They outshot the Preds 17-5 in the final frame (and 38-24 in the game) and had countless surges in the offensive zone.
Colin Wilson’s nifty drop-pass setup Patric Hornqvist’s go-ahead goal 5:08 into the third. Pittsburgh responded over seven minutes later when Crosby capitalized on a long rebound, shooting it past a sprawling Rinne.
Tempers started to flare late in regulation as tempers grew shorter, including a heated exchange between Shea Weber and Chris Kunitz.
For the third straight game, the Preds were taken to overtime. This time, I think they may have felt lucky to get the extra point given the way they were on their heels for the majority of the third period.
About halfway through overtime, a wrister from J.P. Dumont deflected off of Fleury and landed just outside the goal line. Pascal Dupuis swept the puck away from the crease as Bridgestone Arena almost lost its roof.
Just moments later, Crosby fed an open Kris Letang at the top of the lost. Letang set up his shot and cranked it past a screened Rinne, giving the Penguins a 4-3 win.
Barry Trotz on the game:
“If I was a fan tonight, there was a little bit of everything, it was a pretty good game from an entertainment stand point. You had everything from some of the best players in the world playing, had some physical hits, emotions running high… you had breakaways and change in emotion. All those things make the sport great.”
Barry Trotz on Malkin hit:
“From the bench where I was, I could not see it all. To be honest, I did not look after the game or between periods. But everybody said that he left his feet.”
Barry Trotz on rarity of animosity in East vs. West matchup:
“(I haven’t seen something like that) for a while. Usually they are a little subtler. You would’ve thought we were in the same division, battling. Ray Shero probably had them hyped up a bit because he’s very popular with the team and would like to get him a win in Nashville.”
Cody Franson on overtime losses:
“It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow. All three of those games are games that we felt we could’ve or should’ve won. When you lose three straight in overtime kind of the same way is pretty aggravating to say the least.”
Shane O’Brien on intensity level:
“It’s two good teams playing hard out there. (Pittsburgh) is out to send a message this year and we’re in a tight Western Conference and every point is key every night. We knew it’d be a good test and it was a hard fought battle.”
Colin Wilson on third period:
“(Pittsburgh) came out and was going really hard in the third and we have to match that. We keep having great starts, but I think we have to finish up the game a little bit better and match their intensity there.”
I don’t even know where to start with this game. It has to be considered one of the better games in the NHL thus far in this young season. As Trotz alluded to, there was everything you wanted in this one – end-to-end action, intensity, physicality, controversy, overtime… it was certainly entertaining to watch.
Pittsburgh showed their elite level in this one. Each time Nashville took a one-goal lead, Crosby and company came back even stronger. In the end, they simply willed their self to victory after a sluggish first period. To think they’ll improve when Jordan Staal, Zbynek Michalek, and Brooks Orpik return from injury is pretty scary.
As for Nashville, it’s another tough loss. It is nice to have gotten a point in the first six games, but to lose the last three games on home-ice the way they did has to be disappointing in the locker room. One positive for them was the penalty kill, which killed off all five Pittsburgh power plays; the Preds ranked 28th in the NHL on the penalty kill heading into the game.
They have to set their sights on Dallas and Tampa Bay right away as they head south for a back-to-back this weekend.