Stanley Cup Final: Penguins claim second straight Cup with late goal vs. Preds
Pekka Rinne keeps Game 6 scoreless until late in 3rd, when Patric Hornqvist wins it for Pittsburgh
Bridgestone Arena watched the Western Conference underdogs keep the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins scoreless until late in the third period.
But none of it was enough to stop the Pens from taking a historic leap forward at the 1:35 mark, when they finally put a dent in the scoreboard, downed Nashville in front of its home crowd and became the first back-to-back title winners since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
Skittish out of the gate with defenseman Roman Josi and a few other Predators tumbling over their own skates, Nashville translated its energy to blue-line production as the opening period wore on.
Down a man after an interference call on Ian Cole, Pittsburgh killed off the Predators' lone power-play try before the first break and won one faceoff battle after the next but had trouble escaping Peter Laviolette's men in their own zone.
Rinne, meanwhile, was back to his home-ice self early in Sunday's matchup, halting nine shots from the Penguins, including a line drive from Conn Smythe winner Sidney Crosby in the final minute of the first period. Seventeen hits from the Preds -- and a quick sliding save from a banged-up Ryan Ellis -- seemed to help the veteran goalie's hot start, too, disrupting Pittsburgh in space and ensuring the defending champs would have no shot at a repeat of Game 5's blowout beginning.
When the Pens did break free, they could not best Rinne -- something they did again and again back home but struggled to do in trips to Bridgestone Arena for Games 3 and 4.
But Matt Murray, who surrendered eight goals in those back-to-back Pens losses in Nashville earlier in the series, had his own highlights early on to thwart the Preds' offense. His sliding save against a shot from ex-Pittsburgh winger James Neal kept the two sides scoreless entering the second.
And he had another gem of a stop in the next period before a follow-up save that drew the ire of the Nashville audience -- one that, had it not been for a quick officiating whistle, would actually have been a go-ahead goal for the Preds' Colton Sissons.
Filip Forsberg drove and shot at Murray on that fateful play, and the Pens goalie appeared to make the play-ending grab before Sissons outstretched to push the loose puck into the net. Blowing the play dead after losing sight of the puck, however, the ref elicited a hearty round of jeers from the crowd, erasing Sissons' score. Even if his potentially game-changing call was the right one according to the rule book.
The second period had everything except a real score.
More highlight-reel stops from Rinne and Murray. Another team-first effort from Ellis in the crease, where the ailing veteran stopped a Pens drive with his knee. Threatening shots from Crosby, whose clean strikes nearly caught Rinne off guard. A Sissons breakaway, fueled by a slow transition from Pittsburgh's bench, that ended in a Murray steal. And a full 20 minutes of back-and-forth hockey, largely without the reckless penalties that populated earlier Final bouts and setting the stage for a nail-biting finish.
The goalie battle continued into the third, with Murray headlining the Pens' push against another Nashville power play and thwarting a brief 5-on-3 for the Preds.
And the pendulum finally swung in Pittsburgh's direction with 1:35 left, when Patric Hornqvist sneaked the puck behind Rinne's back during a drive in front of Nashville's net, overshadowing an otherwise dominant night for the Preds goalie and setting up a follow-up empty-netter from Carl Hagelin to seal Steel City's second successive crown.
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