Stanley Cup Final three stars: Predators find their groove in Music City

Between an Alan Jackson concert outside and tens of thousands who packed Bridgestone Arena and the honky tonks up and down Broadway, it was clear long before the puck dropped on Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final Game 3 that the rest of the NHL had never seen hockey quite like this.

It turned out to be just what was needed for the Predators to claw their way back into the series.

Two unfortunate losses in Pittsburgh behind them, the Predators returned to their country confines a rejuvenated bunch and punched back on the Penguins for a decisive 5-1 victory.

There was no telling how the Music City’s first-ever Cup Final game would go over.

Craig Smith’s clean breakaway 4:54 into the third period to give the Preds a 4-1 lead was the dagger.

As good as the Predators offense was Saturday, their defense was even better. Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were each held without a shot in a playoff game for the first time ever.

Based off production alone, Niederreiter continues to make the case that he’s ready for a more prominent role. He’s coming off his third straight season scoring 20 or more goals. His ice time though in Minnesota has plateaued: He actually saw a decrease in average time on ice this past season, down to 15:04 per-game from 15:33.

Niederreier was third on the Wild with 25 goals and fourth with 57 points. He’s got his sights set on an even bigger offensive performance though, and knows there will be expectations that come with a long-term, big-dollar extension.

My big goal is to get 30 (goals) in this league, he said. For that I have to work hard, and help my game, and shoot more pucks to the net.

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