Colton Sissons #10 of the Nashville Predators watches the puck go over goaltender Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on a goal by teammate Roman Josi #59 (not pictured) during the second period of Game Three of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on June 3, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The streets of Smashville were packed with people eager to enjoy their first taste of the Stanley Cup Final, courtesy of a Predators' playoff run expected by no one outside of Tennessee.
If you were wondering how Nashville became Smashville, we all found out Saturday night when the Predators pounded the Penguins, 5-1, in Game 3 of the Cup Final inside a boisterous Bridgestone Arena.
“You could just feel the buzz,” Predators winger James Neal said, adding it carried from the streets onto the ice. “The hockey world is starting to see it.”
You would never have known the Predators were trailing the Penguins, 2-0, in this best-of-seven series, given the excitement before the first Cup Final game played here since the NHL awarded this city an expansion team in 1998.
This is a country music town, first and foremost, one that showed off its star power with Alan Jackson playing a free concert on Broadway and Martina McBride singing the national anthem.
Even a pair of Pittsburgh favorites — Hank Williams Jr. and Styx — turned on the City of Champions.
Williams Jr., who was part of the Steelers' 75th anniversary celebration, waved a rally towel to fire up the crowd before the game. At the first intermission, Styx played a trio of songs, including Renegade, which has become an anthem for the Steelers.
Awesome as the atmosphere was — just as loud here as it sounded on your TV — it had nothing to do with the outcome.
More so than their music, the Predators proved they could play championship-caliber hockey. The sweetest sound was the goal horn.
“It's an exciting atmosphere,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We were well aware of it going in. Our guys were excited to play here. It's a great hockey city. There was a lot of energy in the building. I don't think it had an impact on how we performed.”
Despite the amped-up crowd, the Predators didn't score the game's first goal. That was a gem by the Penguins' Jake Guentzel, the rookie winger who scored his NHL-best 13th tally of the playoffs for a 1-0 lead at 2 minutes, 46 seconds of the first period.
But the Penguins didn't score again, as star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both failed to register a shot on goal and the power play went powerless.
The game, and perhaps this series, changed in a span of 42 seconds. That's how long it took between Roman Josi's tying power-play goal at 5:51 of the second period and Frederick Gaudreau's go-ahead goal for a 2-1 lead.
“They were down 2-nothing, and they wanted to play better. I don't think that's overly profound. We've got to respond better,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said of the series. “We try to play inside the glass, not what's going on outside the glass. What's going on outside shouldn't matter.”
Just for good measure in this tale of turncoats, Neal scored for a 3-1 lead with only 22.6 second left in the second period. The Predators weren't done, as winger Craig Smith added a breakaway goal for a 4-1 lead 4:54 into the third and defenseman Mattias Ekholm made it 5-1 with 13:10 left.
By that point, the roof was ready to blow off this barn.
“They're a loud crowd,” Guentzel said, “so we've got to handle it next game and be ready for it.”
Smashville showed that it was ready for the Cup, even if it didn't show much Southern hospitality.