Stanley Cup Final: Rinne, Predators surge past Penguins in 4-1 win to even series

After two games of the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators, ranked last among postseason teams entering these playoffs, appeared well on their way to falling victim to a repeat title run by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In the two games since, however, the tables sure have turned.

That was evidenced on Saturday, when the Preds ran past the Pens in a 5-1 victory to cut Pittsburgh's series lead in half.

And it was evidenced once again Monday night, when another big outing for Pekka Rinne sparked another loud night in Nashville, where four different Predators scored in a 4-1 victory that leveled the series at 2.

Trading barbs with a combined 13 shots in the first period, the Pens and Preds went back and forth in their fight for early momentum in front of a roaring Bridgestone Arena crowd.

After a stop-and-start beginning to Game 4, the two sides scored nearly in succession. Calle Jarnkrok tapped a rebound past Matt Murray at the 14:51 mark, then Sidney Crosby capped off a one-on-one try vs. Pekka Rinne just over a minute later.

Varying circumstances led to each score.

After a slow start made even slower by a Pittsburgh power play and a handful of play stoppages, the Preds started piling on the pressure in the Pens' defensive zone with a little more than five minutes until the first break, attacking Murray until Craig Smith flung one off the defending champions' goalie, which gave Jarnkrok an open window -- and a chance to send Music City into a tizzy.

Not long afterward, Crosby took the burden off Pittsburgh's overwhelmed blue line, racing across the ice (while Nashville's Ryan Ellis overpursued the puck) and driving all the way to the net, where he outdid Rinne with patience and a shot off the post that tied the game at 1.

It was the type of crisp, highlight-reel breakaway that someone of Crosby's caliber should have made on such a big stage. But it was a big-time highlight nonetheless, not to mention an injection of confidence for the Pens, who went without a single shot from both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Game 3. It also quieted any doubts as to whether Crosby, who exchanged shoves with outspoken Preds defenseman P.K. Subban early on, was truly rattled by the home team's scrappy antics.

Rinne stole the show early in the second period, however, eliciting a standing ovation after back-to-back-to-back saves that thwarted more would-be Crosby magic and set up a go-ahead wrap-around score by Frederick Gaudreau. Killing a Pens power play that carried over from the opening period (and featuring some last-minute off-the-skates work from Crosby), the veteran goalie halted shots by Chris Kunitz and postseason darling Jake Guentzel before Gaudreau rushed around the back of Pittsburgh's net to sneak one under Murray's stick.

Gaudreau's score went uncalled at first -- everyone assumed Murray had come up with a reflexive save -- but a subsequent horn and replay proved the puck had crossed the red line, putting the Preds in front and granting the arena a delayed celebration.

Rinne gave the crowd even more to cheer about later in the second, logging a trio of close saves in just about as many seconds on another Crosby breakaway. Erasing memories of nightmarish start to this Final, the one-time Conn Smythe Trophy candidate ensured the Pens would not get a repeat of Crosby's earlier drive. That kept the momentum with Nashville and its chanting audience.

The energy was mirrored by the Preds' insurance goal following Rinne's layout in front of the net, with Mike Fisher diving to pass the puck to a streaking Viktor Arvidsson, who put Nashville up by two 13:08 into the second.

And a long, bouncy, empty-net score for Filip Forsberg, who was long overdue for a goal in the Final, sealed the deal for the Preds late in the third, downing the Penguins, sending the series back to Pittsburgh and suddenly shooting Nashville back into contention.

Pekka Rinne and the Predators were all over the Penguins on Monday. USATSI
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