Former NHL assistant Perry Pearn says Penguins’ forecheck hurt Nashville, is concerned about goalie Pekka Rinne
For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Perry Pearn to break down the action from the Predators’ perspective. Pearn will be checking in throughout the Final.
Pearn, 65, has worked 22 seasons as an NHL assistant with the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. He began his NHL career as an assistant in Winnipeg in 1995-96.
Pearn also has a gold medal as coach (1993) and two golds as an assistant (1990, 1991) for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
PITTSBURGH — There was something different about Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final for former NHL assistant Perry Pearn.
The Pittsburgh Penguins took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 6-0 win against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday. The game wasn’t competitive for very long, with the Penguins ahead by three goals after the first period, and six after the second.
Game 6 is at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
“It was over early last night,” Pearn said. “For sure early in the second period, with the fourth goal. And the third goal, with 10 seconds left in the first, that’s exactly what Nashville did to Pittsburgh in Game 3 late in the second period.
“That one made it 3-0 last night and a real mountain to climb. The fourth goal made it academic after that. As good as Nashville was with a comeback from 3-0 in the first game, I didn’t see any of that in them in Game 5. Last night, they didn’t carry much of the play.”
Pearn said that given so little contested time in Game 5, it was difficult to tell if the result was a product of the Penguins’ excellence, or a meltdown by the Predators.
“What I wasn’t surprised about was how well [Penguins center] Sidney Crosby played,” he said. “We talked about that from Game 4 and he stepped it up from there for Game 5.
“He made a key play early in the game, splitting the defense and drawing the penalty. Then Pittsburgh didn’t horse around. A few good passes, got the puck to the net and bang, they had a power-play goal.”
Defenseman Justin Schultz‘s goal 1:31 into the game opened the door for the Penguins to start firing on all cylinders.
“So one minute in, Nashville is right back on their heels and Pittsburgh did a really good job of forechecking and pressuring,” Pearn said. “Their best of the series. I think Nashville has done a pretty good job of handling the Pittsburgh pressure but last night, whether they were a split second slow or whatever, the pressure from the forecheck helped Pittsburgh dominate the first period.”
A goal by forward Brian Rust put the Penguins ahead 2-0 at 6:43 of the first, another omen.
“We coaches talk a lot about building a goal,” Pearn said. “Often it doesn’t come from a first good shift, it comes after three or four or five good ones in a row. You build the pressure with short shifts, putting the puck in behind the defense and keeping pressure on and then something snaps. Their second goal was that kind of goal.”
A hot topic leading to Game 6 will be the state of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who was pulled to start the second period after allowing three goals on nine shots.
“You look at the goals and as an outsider looking in, I have a hard time being critical of a guy who’s gotten them as far as they are,” Pearn said. “I’ve read about his stats in the Final in Pittsburgh (0-3, 5.40 goals-against average, .756 save percentage) versus in Nashville (2-0, 1.01 GAA, .962 save percentage).
“To me, last night was more about how Pittsburgh came at them than how Rinne played in goal. I suppose the most concerning thing from Nashville’s standpoint is that’s now twice in the series (he’s been pulled). Once, you bounce back from. Twice, now I would be worried about confidence a little bit.”
Pearn agreed the numbers aren’t good in Pittsburgh but said it’s often more than goaltending that’s responsible.
“Ahead, if they win, he’ll be a key player,” Pearn said. “Their coaching staff knows him well. They’ll know how to deal with him, get him back up.
“The good thing for Nashville, they have two days to regroup.”
The Penguins have played 48 playoff games in the past two seasons, and having two days between Games 4 and 5, and now 5 and 6, also figures to help the defending champions.
“When you start adding up games, Pittsburgh guys have played over the last two years, that extra day’s rest has given them an opportunity to have a bit more bounce.” Pearn said.
Something new will be introduced to the series for Game 6. It is the first time the Predators could lose a series in the 2017 playoffs.
“That’s an interesting one,” Pearn said. “The experience factor in those games is a big deal. That’s now where Pittsburgh holds a big advantage. They’ve got a lot of guys who have been there before. I’m not sure Nashville has anybody that’s been in an elimination game in the Final other than [center] Mike Fisher.
“When you get into new territory like this, it could go either way. If you’re oblivious to the pressure, which Nashville could be, they could play their best game of the series. But given how they reacted to the early part of the last game, they’ll be a bit fragile. If it doesn’t go well early in Game 6, that could be trouble.”