Nashville – Charles Barkley crashed Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey’s news conference Monday afternoon to announce that the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers were voted as the NHL’s greatest Stanley Cup championship team by fans.
The basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst gushed about how much he looked forward to Monday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final because, “I’m not breaking earth-shattering news, the NBA playoffs have not been very good.”
After a postseason full of NBA blowouts, “Sir Charles” wanted to see an exciting hockey game and hear Nashville’s rabid fan base.
Barkley could not have left disappointed after the Predators worked valiantly behind another terrific Pekka Rinne performance to turn the Cup Final into a best-of-three tournament by winning their second consecutive home game after dropping the first two games in Pittsburgh. The latest triumph was 4-1 in front of a boisterous group of fans who couldn’t stomach sitting in their seats and screamed their voices into hoarseness.
“We believed in our play. We believed in our group and we knew we were strong at home,” Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson said of how they rebounded after returning home down 0-2 in the series. “We went out there, and we were fearless. We just went on the attack.”
After Sidney Crosby responded to an early Nashville goal with the equalizer, the Predators struck twice in the second period, including one by unlikely series hero Freddie Gaudreau. The Predators then got a dazzling array of saves from Rinne, who improved to 9-1 at home this postseason with 23 stops.
In that period alone, Rinne denied Chris Kunitz and Crosby on breakaways, then dove out of nowhere to rob the league’s leading goal scorer, Jake Guentzel, of the tying goal with what Rinne called a “soccer goalie save.”
“Peks did a phenomenal job,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “The first save, the second, third, fourth. Peks was one post to the other, on his belly, everywhere.”
Earlier, Rinne robbed Guentzel of what would have been the go-ahead goal.
Matt Murray, told all night by chanting fans that it was all his “fault,” lost for the first time in his postseason career in a game following a loss (7-1).
After scoring two goals in two games in Nashville, the Penguins will lick their wounds for two days before hosting Game 5 Thursday.
“We worked hard all season long to earn home ice. We’re going to try to take advantage of it,” said Penguins veteran Matt Cullen, who said earlier Monday that the Penguins hadn’t played their best game yet. “I thought it was better. We did a better job of creating. We were quicker to pucks and did more things, but better isn’t enough at this point in the season. We know we have another level and I know everybody in here believes we’ll get here.”
Predators fans were in typical Honky Tonk form. Before the opening faceoff, a creative fan threw a catfish onto the ice that was wrapped in a Predators T-shirt while wearing a sparkly cowboy hat with a stuffed animal penguin in its mouth. Dierks Bentley sang the national anthem, Jason Aldean did the ceremonial pregame towel wave from the band stage. They stood all game, chorused for a “Rocky Top’’ singalong late.
In the second, with the score tied 1-1, Gaudreau, an undrafted 24-year-old playing his sixth playoff game, scored on a wraparound that had to be counted after the NHL Situation Room spotted the puck crossed the line on video and stopped play.
Gaudreau, a three-year minor leaguer, became the second player in history to score his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup Final (John Harms, 1944 Chicago Blackhawks).
“Timely goals, and composed,” captain Mike Fisher said. “He definitely belongs.”
Gaudreau doesn’t even have a stall in the locker room. He has been sitting on a folding chair.
“I could be sitting on the floor and I would take it,” Gaudreau said.
It was another gutsy effort by the Predators, who suddenly have the defending champs on the ropes.
“The guys played unbelievable,” Fisher said. “We’re not going to enjoy it for too long. We know how much work we have ahead of us.”