Penguins Win Game One 5-3 Despite Only Having 12 Shots

Written by Sean Hartnet at CBS New York.com

Throughout the playoffs, the 16th-seeded Nashville Predators have gained admirers due to their next-man-up mentality and suffocating brand of defense.

Although the Predators lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night, they showed how effective their possession-positive play can be against the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Predators quickly fell behind by three goals after P.K. Subban’s apparent series-opening goal was wiped off the board due to a contentious offsides review. Nashville carried the play for the opening 11 minutes, but mentally unraveled after the goal was taken off the board.

The visitors lost focus and fell into the trap of taking several ill-advised penalties, including James Neal being whistled for a mindless cross-checking penalty that set up a Penguins 5-on-3 advantage. In addition, there was times when Neal needlessly had his stick in the air and not on the ice, a repeated failure to provide a target for his defensemen to advance the puck. It was an awful night for No. 18 in white. He’s got to screw his head on straight for Game 2 on Wednesday.

Despite the nightmarish first period, the Predators charged back, gaining the lion’s share of the momentum in the second as they played keep away with the puck. Those who thought the own goal off Mattias Ekholm’s knee late in the first was going to finish Nashville obviously don’t much about this group’s ability to respond when the chips are down.

Nashville did an outstanding job of minimizing Pittsburgh’s home ice advantage for much of the night. Led by criminally underrated defenseman Roman Josi, the Predators limited the high-octane Penguins to just 12 total shots on goal in Game 1. There was plenty of excellent backchecking and denying of offensive zone entries by head coach Peter Laviolette’s players. PPG Paints Arena drifted into a tense and muted atmosphere as the game progressed.

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The Pens Win In Overtime, And I Am 100% Behind the Predators.

Written by Cody Benjamin at CBS Sports.com

It took more than four periods of hockey — and a whole lot of attempts on Craig Anderson — Thursday night in Game 7 against an Eastern Conference underdog, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Two games after being pulled twice from a 7-0 blowout loss, Anderson nearly had his second straight 40-save night in the net for the Ottawa Senators, pushing the favored Pens and defending title winners into double overtime after falling behind on two occasions.

But the Pens, with a relentless offensive attack, got the winning goal from Chris Kunitz to lock up a return trip to the Final and a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a 3-2 decision.

A game after the Pens unloaded 46 shots against Anderson, neither team was overly successful in replicating action in front of the net, at least early on. Pittsburgh managed just six shots on goal in the first period, while Ottawa had just five shots at Matt Murray.

The defensive back-and-forth continued after a second-period strike from Kunitz put Pittsburgh up 1-0 — and an immediate Senators response in the form of a Mark Stone goal just 20 seconds later. And while Guy Boucher’s physical team failed to convert on a pair of power-play tries, an all-too-familiar issue for the Sens this postseason, it also kept up against Sidney Crosby and the speedy Pens, excelling in efforts to halt second- and third-chance shots in front of Anderson.

Ottawa’s resiliency was the highlight of a thrilling third period, too.

Officiating went in both directions over the course of the Eastern Conference finals, with some Pens fans arguing that a goalie interference call from Tuesday’s Game 6 ruined Pittsburgh’s shot at putting away the Sens. And penalties resurfaced to play a role in the final period of regulation Thursday, this time benefiting the defending Stanley Cup champs on an interference call against Dion Phaneuf, whose flagged tussle with Phil Kessel was more the result of a dive onto the ice by the latter than any kind of blatant roughness.

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Nashville Wins Series With Anaheim, Advances To First Stanley Cup Final

Written by Joseph Zucker at Bleacher Reports.com

The Nashville Predators are going to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history following a 6-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final on Monday night in Bridgestone Arena.

Colton Sissons registered a hat trick to propel the Predators’ attack, while Pekka Rinne made 38 saves, offsetting a 41-18 edge in shots in favor of Anaheim.

Not even half of the opening period had elapsed by the time the Predators took a two-goal lead.

Austin Watson opened the scoring 1:21 into the game. Watson received an assist from Brandon Montour, who deflected the puck into the net with his left skate. The NHL shared a replay of the goal:

A little over seven minutes later, Sissons doubled the home team’s lead with a quick wrist shot that froze Ducks goaltender Jonathan Bernier:

While Nashville couldn’t have envisaged a better start, the Predators’ momentum didn’t carry over much longer. The absences of Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen loomed large as Nashville’s attack dried up and the team went into a defensive shell.

Taking advantage of the gun-shy Predators, the Ducks halved the deficit at the 4:45 mark of the second period. Ryan Getzlaf delivered a perfect pass to Ondrej Kase in front of goal, and the 21-year-old forward didn’t miss with his close-range effort.

The Orange County Register‘s Eric Stephens was impressed by what he saw from Kase on the ice:

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Predators Lead Ducks 3-2, One Win Away From First Stanley Cup Finals

Written by Cody Benjamin at CBSSports.com

One more win and the Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup Final.

With Pekka Rinne turning in maybe his best outing of the postseason and the blue line clamping down after a go-ahead strike from Pontus Aberg, Nashville took a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals with a 3-1 decision over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night.

Two days after edging the Preds in a 3-2 overtime clash, Anaheim did enough early in Game 5 to take a 1-0 lead, staying even with Nashville in terms of first-period shots and faceoffs, then scoring on Rinne thanks to a putback from Corey Wagner. And the Ducks ultimately put more shots on the Predators net over the course of the evening, looking to take advantage of a Ryan Johansen-less unit.

But it was Music City’s postseason heroes that finished strong, finally converting on a power-play try with Aberg’s goal — his first ever in the playoffs — 11:01 into the third, when Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm refused to back down in front of John Gibson.

Rinne and the defense then tightened up to follow up Aberg’s milestone score, allowing just one shot from Anaheim in a span of just about six minutes and shutting down a threatening attempt from Brandon Montour right near the net.

An unassisted Austin Watson goal sealed the deal for the Preds in the game’s final minute.

And Nashville, even with a big-name defenseman sidelined in Johansen, has pulled within striking distance of a historic trip to the Stanley Cup Final, in large part due to the top-line blue-line play that drove the Preds past the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

With Game 6 slated for a return to Nashville, the Ducks are officially on life alert, even if their slate of comebacks this postseason suggests otherwise.

The Predators, meanwhile?

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Pens Take Game 5, Winning 7-0. Now Lead Series 3-2

Written by Justin Cuthbert at YahooSports.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins torched the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Sunday afternoon and moved to within a win of advancing back to the Stanley Cup Final to defend their crown.

Matt Murray made 21 saves for the shutout in his second start in these playoffs, while seven different Penguins scored in the 7-0 thrashing.

It began with a blitz in the first period as the Penguins scored four goals on 15 shots, quickly putting the game out of reach like the Senators had with their own offensive explosion back in Game 3.

Olli Maatta opened the scoring, launching a mammoth blast from the point on a quick counter created off a horrible turnover near the blue line by Mike Hoffman.

After Sidney Crosby struck in a third consecutive game to double the lead four minutes later with a tip on the power play, the Senators’ teetering defensive-zone coverage completely collapsed. The Penguins hemmed them in their own end for more than two minutes before another atrocious failed exit led to Nick Bonino winding up in a dangerous area. His shot caught the inside of Bryan Rust’s leg and evaded Craig Anderson, briefly sending the netminder to the chair at the end of Ottawa’s bench.

Mike Condon came out to replace Anderson, and made one save before Guy Boucher surprised by returning his starter returned during a stoppage. It backfired almost instantaneously, as Scott Wilson shovelled a rebound back toward the front of the net, which bounced in off Anderson, who was late to seal his post, to make it 4-0.

He finished the period, but was replaced for good to start the second.

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Ducks Tie Series With Preds Two Games Apiece

Written by Tal Pinchevsky at ESPN.com

Corey Perry’s goal 10 minutes, 25 seconds into overtime gave the Anaheim Ducks a 3-2 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday, evening the best-of-seven series against the Nashville Predators at two games apiece.

Perry’s second overtime winner in two weeks was originally credited to Nate Thompson. But a review showed that Perry’s centering pass actually went in off the stick of Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.

Nashville forced overtime with two late goals, including Filip Forsberg’s tying marker with 35 seconds remaining in regulation and Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne on the bench.

How it happened: Nashville trailed 2-0 after Rickard Rakell and Nick Ritchie scored on long shots that eluded Rinne to the short side. But the Predators found new life late when Subban scored 13:33 into the third period. It appeared the comeback attempt would fall short after Nashville failed to register a shot on a late five-on-three advantage lasting 1:31. But Forsberg’s finish off a mad scramble tied the score and completed an uncharacteristic collapse by a Ducks team that entered the game with a 5-1 postseason record when leading after 40 minutes.

Changing assignments: The Ducks’ more efficient offense early in the game was facilitated in part by Ryan Kesler no longer being required to shadow Nashville’s leading playoff scorer, Ryan Johansen. With Nashville enjoying the advantage of last change, the Predators’ top line was matched up primarily against a Ducks first line centered by captain Ryan Getzlaf. Getting a break from harassing Johansen, Kesler was able to take on a more offensive role, leading all players with five shots through two periods. During that span, Johansen’s entire line, which included Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, combined for only four shots.

Of course, Forsberg and Arvidsson, who assisted on both Nashville goals, pushed through toward the end.

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Senators Dominate Penguins To Take Game 3

Written by Jason Mackey at Pittsburgh Post Gazette.com

Marc-Andre Fleury played the part of easy target after the Penguins’ 5-1 loss to the Senators in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final on Wednesday at Canadian Tire Centre, allowing four goals on the first nine shots he faced.

Accurate? Yeah, right. Just ask Matt Cullen, who was fairly steaming after this one.

“We played like [expletive],” Cullen said. “No excuses. That’s the bottom line. We didn’t battle. We didn’t work as hard as we needed to. It’s the conference finals. To have that kind of effort is pretty tough to stomach.”

The effort Cullen mentioned prohibited the Penguins from penetrating the Senators’ defensive structure enough to generate more than 26 shots on goal and make goaltender Craig Anderson’s life miserable.

Another playoff game, more missing offense. The Penguins have now scored two or fewer goals in seven of their past eight.

“Flower has carried us here,” Cullen said. “He’s played so well for us. That makes it even worse that we kind of hung him out to dry. Bottom line is we didn’t play well. We have to figure it out here as a group. We have to understand that it’s not going to be easy. We have to put our best effort out there. We have to win battles. We have to fight a little bit. We didn’t tonight.”

Four of the Penguins’ top-six forwards have struggled to score of late.

Sidney Crosby’s third period goal snapped a seven-game goal-less stretch for him. An encouraging sign but not enough. Conor Sheary hasn’t scored in 14, Chris Kunitz 10 and Jake Guentzel four. Hardly ideal production from four of your top six forwards.

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Predators Win Game 3, And Take a One Game Lead Over The Ducks

Written by Kevin Baxter at LA Times.com

From the outside, Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville is a handsome, if oversized, building surrounded by office towers, a parking lot and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In other words, nothing special.

But on the inside it’s a magical place, one bathed in yellow and often louder than a jumbo jet at full throttle. On Tuesday that helped the Predators pull a little more sleight of hand, scoring a pair of third-period goals to down the Ducks 2-1 and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.

Game 4 is Thursday.

“We love playing here,” Nashville forward James Neal said. “From the second we skate on the ice, it’s an amazing building to play in. Everyone says their fans are great. But this is a whole different level of support.

“The city, it’s on fire.”

So are the Predators, whose victory Tuesday left them 6-0 at home this postseason. It was also their 10th straight home playoff win over the past two seasons, the longest such streak in the NHL in 20 years.

Nashville wasn’t even in the league 20 years ago.

“You always try to establish your home building, [make it a] tough place to play. And I think we’ve been doing that,” said goalie Pekka Rinne, who turned back 19 shots. “Even in the regular season, we like to play at home.”

The goals Tuesday were scored by Filip Forsberg, who has one in each of the three games in the series, and Roman Josi, whose game-winner came with 2:43 left in regulation. Both came off fortunate rebounds and they stood up after Nashville had twice as many shots on goal and had two potential tiebreaking goals disallowed in an eight-second span of the third period, both because of goaltender interference.

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Penguins Tie Series With Ottawa, After Winning Game 2

Written by Craig Custance at ESPN.com

An angry Phil Kessel ended up being a very good thing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. On a couple of occasions during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday, he was shown on the bench, yelling in frustration. Sometimes to himself. Sometimes in the direction of teammates. He was most certainly engaged.

Then he buried a shot late in the third period, only the second time in the series the Penguins beat Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson, and it was all good.

The Penguins beat the Senators 1-0 Monday to even up this series at one game each.

How they did it: The Penguins used their speed much more effectively in generating consistent offensive pressure, even if it took until late in the third period to finally capitalize. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wanted to see more shooting, and his team responded with a 29-23 edge in shots. The Penguins have struggled with possession this postseason, but around the time Kessel finally broke the scoreless tie, the Penguins were controlling 64 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

It was an impressive showing, especially considering the players the Penguins were missing due to injuries.

More Penguins injured: The Penguins’ defense took another serious blow when their best remaining offensive defenseman, Justin Schultz, crashed into the boards in the first period and left the ice, heading directly down the tunnel. He didn’t return. If he’s out any length of time, it’s a major loss for a defense that is already having trouble getting the puck out if its own zone without Kris Letang and Trevor Daley. Daley skated on his own again Monday morning before the team’s game-day practice.

The Penguins also lost forward Bryan Rust when he was leveled by Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf in the first period.

Phaneuf a physical force: This was classic Phaneuf. He was a one-man wrecking crew for a large portion of Game 2, starting with his open-ice hit on Rust in the first period. But Phaneuf didn’t stop there in a contest that was more physical than Game 1.

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Penguins Drop Game 1 Of ECF To Ottawa

Written by Craig Custance at ESPN.com

They watched film. They simulated the Senators’ trap during practice.

But until you see it in person, see how consistently and religiously the Senators execute, it’s truly impossible to visualize.

The Penguins got that in Game 1.

“Experiencing it is something different,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said after practice Sunday.

If there was any doubt what the reigning champs are up against, it has been completely removed now. And while we’ll make a big deal out of the trap and the system and the Senators’ attention to detail, it’s the execution that is most impressive. Right now, Ottawa is dialed in as much as any team left in the playoffs. The Senators truly understand their identity, how they need to play to be successful and they appear to be a group that has a genuine grasp of the opportunity that is in front of them — an opportunity they are clinging to tightly so it doesn’t slip away.

When one NHL team executive was asked about the Senators’ trap, that’s where he focused his attention — the effort of the players.

“The reason Ottawa is where they are is because they’ve consistently outworked their opponent,” the executive said. “They outworked Pittsburgh. … It’s going to come down to blue-collar work ethic, and execution. Who sweats the most.”

That work ethic has rarely been a problem for a Mike Sullivan group. The Penguins’ coach had them out for another full practice Sunday to try and find solutions to a forgettable Game 1, starting practice with a drill that simulated a jammed-up neutral zone with players weaving in and out with pucks.

An area of focus for the Penguins after the Game 1 loss was shot selection. Sullivan wants the Penguins to be more aggressive with their shooting, rather than trying to find the perfect shot.

During a Sunday morning film session, the Penguins’ coaches showed a number of situations where they felt there was an opportunity to get a shot on goal, and it didn’t happen.

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