The game was scoreless through nearly three periods when with about 90 seconds left in the regulation time, Patric Hornqvist would skate around Rinne and flip the puck off of Netminder’s back and into the net. It was the difference in the game and for the second year in a row, Lord Stanley’s Cup will reside in the City of Champions Trophy Cabinet.
There are many storylines that had developed prior to the game, and then during the game. After both teams and their goalies had held serve in their home markets, it was going to be which team would get that rare road win. Would Rinne play like the guy we saw at home or on the road. Would Murray be able to play as well on the road as he had at home. What Penguin player would step up in game six to be the hero? Would the Nashville home crowd get back into the heads of the Pens and allow the defense to dictate play again.
Then the puck dropped and what we saw was the most entertaining game of the series. Both teams were stellar and doing all the little things it needed to do. We saw only a couple of those defense forced breakaway opportunities that Nashville tortured the Pens with in games 3 and 4. We saw that great forecheck for the Pens that was so effective throughout the playoffs when they needed it most.
Nashville was able to start quick and hit hard early. Pittsburgh was able to reverse that though and by the end of the period the shot totals and opportunities were fairly close. Both teams had chances and it was the guys between the pipes that were on point. It was not until the second period when the Predators would get one beyond Murray That the game would change. But not at all in the way one would think.
As you watched the play unfold, Murray had corralled the puck, at least initially. Enough so that the Referee had blown the whistle. The official was not in a good position to see behind Murray as the puck had trickled beyond him loose in the crease and as the whistle blew, a Predator had dove into the crease with his stick and pushed it across the goal line. The crowd went crazy and just like that everyone in the building thought it was 1-0. Everyone except the referee of course. He lost sight of the puck and they are taught that when they can no longer see the puck, blow the whistle. That is what happened and upon further review,they ruled no goal.
This type of thing is not abnormal. It happens more times than the NHL would like to talk about. But when that whistle blows the play is over. That is the human factor and that play can not be overturned because the whistle is the final word in the debate.
The Pens had played well to that point, but were withstanding a small barrage from the Predators so of course a little more life was breathed into the team.
The Preds on the other hand, continued to play at the pace they had nearly all game which may be Unlike what you may have assumed. They continued to play hard and put pressure on Murray, Only for the remainder of the game Matt was flawless.
On the other side, Rinne was also extremely good in net stopping every great shot the Pens would throw at him. At least until late in the third period.
With less than five minutes left, it looked nearly inevitable that the game was going into overtime. Unfortunately for the Predators, Pittsburgh had other things in mind. The ice in Nashville was less than impressive and because of that the Pens passes did not connect like we have seen in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh knew they were going to have to get pressure in front of the net and score ugly. They pounded Rinne throughout the game sending guys in the crease, reminding the netminder they were there. Then in the third period, the Pen’s guy that owns the crease, Patric Honrqvist would dance around Goalie Pekka Rinne and flip the puck off his back and into the net.
The goal was scored with just 90 seconds left which just sucked the air out of that very loud building. The Pittsburgh Bench was jumping with excitement. It was a signature moment as the Pittsburgh Penguins figured out a way to beat Rinne on a night when he was at his best.
There was still 90 seconds left and when the puck dropped again, Nashville did everything they could to get their goalie off the ice. Once that happened, it took the Pens only moments before they would spring Carl Hagelin, who was skating with more speed than we had seen of him throughout the playoffs. Hagelin would skate the puck down and shoot into the empty net to give the Pens a 2-0 lead and put the final nail in the coffin of the Predators.
When The game changed: In my opinion, it was not when the goal was disallowed, it was when the Pens fended off the 5 on 3. After the officials blew that goal call, they did everything in their power to give the Predators a chance to put a puck in the net. Nashville went 0-4 on the power play, and because the Pens were the benefactors of a blown call, the Predators were allowed to do whatever and whenever they wanted to. The officials swallowed their whistles doing whatever they could do to put that goal back up on the scoreboard. But it was not to be.
Standout Play: Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe award which should surprise no one. He did not amass as many points as Malkin but he was the best player on the ice at any time. And trust me, it was not even close. Carl Hagelin was a scratch for a game or two but his game was elevated on Sunday as that speed we saw from him last year was back and better than ever. He was the fastest guy on the ice for either team, and used that speed getting to pucks and making plays all over the ice. Matt Murray gave up nothing after the blown call as he stood tall against many great shots. He was really good and for those fans that were rooting for him to fail in hopes to see Fleury close it out in Pittsburgh… shame on you.
Mike Sullivan was not on the ice, but the strings he pulls with this team is nothing short of extraordinary. He has Sid and Geno playing at that top of their perspective games unlike any coach prior to him. He gets the most out of this young group of support players unlike any coach in the NHL. But it was not just the young guys, it is players like Kunitz, Daley, and Cullen who are all near or at the end of their careers and responded to every call Sully made.
Speaking of coaching, The Pens have the best group of assistant coaches in the league with Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin, though the superstar between the two of them in my opinion is Martin and this is why.
Jacques Martin works with the defense and there was not a group more maligned throughout the year and this playoff run. Especially without Letang on the ice, this was largely a group of no names that he was able to get the best out of. Including dealing with multiple injuries that left the defense cupboard nearly bare at times. They fended off the best teams in hockey including Columbus and Washington. The Pens played in the best division in Hockey, not to mention the strongest conference. Being able to generate what he was with what he had, is nothing short of amazing. Take nothing away from the players themselves, but I think Martin was a driving force behind that group. As for Tocchet, he will by all accounts be the first assistant to go as rumors have swirled for a while that he will take a job as soon as the run was over. Expect that in the coming days.
GM Rutherford looks like a genius with the moves he has made with the Hansey pickup, not to mention Mark Streit that played a game or two in the playoffs as the Pens battled injury. Lets not forget the fact that no one even knew who Connor Sheary and Jake Guentzel were before they stepped up last year and this year.
The Bad: This has to go to the referees for the missed goal call, followed by their desire to put that goal back on the board By ignoring calls against the Pens and calling anything and everything they could for Nashville. As wrong as this is, big games are dictated by bad calls all the time. It happens, but they had an especially bad night because of it. Gary Bettman was quoted to have said that “we don’t allow our officials to dictate the outcome of games.” Well, that is exactly what happened during game six. With that said, Predators fans can complain all they want about the goal being disallowed, but they were given ample opportunities including a 5 on 3 to put a score on the board in a scoreless game. It did not happen and the better team won, once again.