Pittsburgh — Somewhere between the catfish lobbing, A-list national anthem singers, Carrie Underwood’s forgetfulness, Charles Barkley’s surprise cameo and P.K. Subban’s breath, there’s been another notable development during the Stanley Cup Final:
A series has broken out.
Perhaps the seeds of an upset, too.
A week ago, the Predators headed home down 2-0 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. Pekka Rinne’s game seemed to be in tatters and the Penguins fan base was musing whether it preferred a sweep or a split of the two games in Nashville so the defending champions could raise the Cup on home ice.
So, about that.
The vibe inside PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 tonight figures to be more anxious than anticipatory after the Predators evened the series at 2-2 with a pair of vintage performances on home ice that sent “Smashville” into a frenzy and delivered a message the first-timers are a threat to become first-time winners.
Through four games, Nashville has more goals, more shots on goal and a bit more swagger than Pittsburgh. What began as a two-month slog to the Cup is now a three-game dash, one that appears to be a coin flip. The Penguins have the experience. The Predators have the momentum. Both are fighting fatigue with adrenaline.
“I know people talk about how we’re tired, but believe me, they’re tired too,” Pittsburgh forward Evgeni Malkin said. “It’s not only us tired. It’s only three games left. We’re not talking about being tired.”
Maybe, but Nashville appeared a step quicker in its home building, pouring in nine goals and handing Penguins goalie Matt Murray the first back-to-back playoff losses of his young career. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan isn’t concerned about Murray. He’s not really worried about the 190 feet in front of Murray, either. The Penguins have come within two games of the first team to capture consecutive Cups in nearly two decades due in large part to their resiliency.
While captain Sidney Crosby says the “desperation level” will ramp up, Sullivan was quick to point out the term doesn’t mean what you think it means.
“’Desperate’ is a funny word for me because it gets thrown around our game a lot,” Sullivan said. “It always has a connotation of hopelessness. I don’t believe that’s the word that we want to use to describe our team. I think we’ve got to play with urgency. I think we’ve got to play determined. I think we have to play with conviction. I think when our team plays that way, we’re at our very best.”
Pittsburgh is just 7-7 over its last 14 games and has been limited to just one goal in six of its past 11 — including the two losses in Nashville. Still, Pittsburgh is pretty good in the house that owner Mario Lemieux built. The Penguins finished with the second-best home record in the league and have ripped off five straight victories on home ice since Ottawa stunned them in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Funny, Rinne hardly looked rattled back home, holding Pittsburgh to just two goals combined as Nashville rallied to tie things up in front of a giddy home crowd that included Underwood, who was so caught up in Cup fever she overlooked husband Mike Fisher’s 37th birthday. Not that Fisher or his teammates are keeping track anyway.
Stanley Cup Finals
Nashville vs. Pittsburgh
Series tied 2-2
■Game 1: Pittsburgh 5-3
■Game 2: Pittsburgh 4-1
■Game 3: Nashville 5-1
■Game 4: Nashville 4-1
■Thursday: at Pittsburgh, 8
■Sunday: at Nashville, 8
■x-Wednesday: at Pittsburgh, 8
x-If necessary; All games on NBC and CBC