One of the many reasons the upset-minded Nashville Predators have lasted this long in the Stanley Cup playoffs is the impact they have received from all four corners of their roster.
On Monday evening, when the Predators scored a 4-1 win at home to knot the best-of-seven championship final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at two games each, goalie Pekka Rinne continued to prove his first two outings in the series were a blip.
But the oldest and most experienced NHLer on the Nashville roster, Mike Fisher, and the least experienced player, Frederick Gaudreau, also enjoyed nights to remember in Game 4.
After back-to-back losses last week in Pittsburgh in which he allowed eight goals on 36 shots, Rinne rebounded with 50 saves on 52 shots for two wins, the Predators’ eighth and ninth in 10 playoff starts at home.
The Finn particularly stood out in the second period with a couple stops on red-hot Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel, breakaways from Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and a wild goal-mouth scramble on which Rinne needed some help from the friendly stick of Predators defenceman Roman Josi to keep Nashville in front 2-1.
Fisher holds off Crosby
Meanwhile, one of Fisher’s tasks in this series has been to harass and keep in check the best player in the world. Yes, Crosby finally broke through for his first goal of the series in the first period to tie the game at 1-1, and he enjoyed his best game of the final so far with four shots on goal.
But Fisher was at his chippy best, never missing an opportunity to annoy Crosby with a slash here, a crosscheck there. Fisher also won 13 of 23 faceoffs and nine of 13 against Crosby.
Fisher celebrated his 37th birthday on Monday. He played like he was a kid again, even though he missed the final two games of the West final against the Anaheim Ducks because of an undisclosed injury.
The Predators veteran from Peterborough, Ont., has four assists in the final and made a wonderful, determined play by diving to knock the puck ahead to linemate Viktor Arvidsson for a breathing-room goal a couple shifts after Rinne’s goal-mouth magical moment.
“[A win is] all I wanted for my birthday,” Fisher said. “Best gift I could get for sure.”
Gaudreau has 2 game-winners — and no locker
Fisher played in his 1,221st combined regular-season and playoff game on Monday. At the other end of the spectrum is Gaudreau. The 24-year-old from Bromont, Que., was playing in only his 15th NHL outing, and his sixth in the post-season.
He saw action in nine regular-season games and only was thrust into the spotlight when Ryan Johansen was lost with a season-ending leg injury in the last round.
His brilliant wrap-around, go-ahead goal on Monday was his second game winner and third goal of the series to become the first player in NHL history to score his first three NHL goals in the Stanley Cup final since Saskatoon’s Johnny Harms turned the trick with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1944.
“Clearly the stage is not too big for him,” Fisher said. “It’s been unbelievable for us, the way he’s come in. He’s been so good. Timely goals, composed. He definitely belongs. He’s been a huge part of our success.”
Gaudreau has been an underdog throughout his career. He was underrated as a junior and undrafted in the NHL. His overage junior season, split between Shawinigan and Drummondville, in which he scored 32 goals and 71 points in 63 games, earned him an AHL contract with the Milwaukee Admirals.
This season, Gaudreau’s third as a pro, he has played with an unforeseen high level of confidence. He busted out for a 25-goal year in Milwaukee and scored three more times in three playoff games for the Admirals.
His play earned him a promotion with the Johansen injury, even if that has meant he doesn’t have a stall in the Predators’ dressing room because he was the proverbial last man in.
“I could be sitting on the floor and I would take it,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here. I don’t really care about the stall, to be honest.”
“Freddy, we’ll see what we can do,” Fisher chimed in. “We’ll see if we can squeeze him in somewhere.”