When Frederick Gaudreau celebrated with his teammates, his first NHL goal might well have been an afterthought — even for him.

Capping a comeback that was both improbable and probable, Gaudreau converted a pass from Austin Watson after racing into the slot and tied Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, 3-3, in the latter stages of the third period.

The improbability of the comeback derived from the Predators overcoming a 3-0 hole they sunk into in the final 20 seconds of the first period. The probability of the comeback stemmed from the fact that Nashville had held the Penguins without a shot ever since then, spanning the entire second period and what would, fatefully, become the first 16:42 of the third period.

So weird enough that Gaudreau’s first NHL goal came in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. But such distinctiveness was no match for the peculiarity swirling all around it.

Gaudreau, an undrafted French Canadian, appeared in nine games for the Predators during the regular season, debuting in the NHL at the age of 24. When Nashville lost two centermen at the end of the conference finals against Anaheim, he was called up as an emergency replacement. On his first shot in eight-plus playoff periods, Gaudreau bested Matt Murray with just six and a half minutes remaining in the third period.

Though the moment was Gaudreau’s, the exceptional poise and elusiveness of Austin Watson was responsible for all but the finishing touch.

Having just killed off a Penguins power play with no shots on their net (of course) the Predators immediately went back to work on offense, getting the puck deep in the Pittsburgh corner.

Olli Maataa and Trevor Daley failed to seal Watson off and he came away with the puck and quickly darted to safety behind the net. Wraparound had to be very much on his mind, with Nashville changing after the penalty kill. Watson indeed curled his stick wide of his body, but as he stepped to the side of Murray he spotted Gaudreau flying into the zone from the bench.

In that split second he refrained from the wraparound and put the puck right on the stick of the streaking Gaudreau, who dared not waste a moment in sending it into the unprotected goal.

Simultaneous celebrations erupted both on the ice and inside the Predators bench for this most cathartic of goals. Just when Nashville had reason to believe that the phenomenal hockey they’d been playing for the last 32 minutes might be negated by Pittsburgh’s power play they had tied the game in a flash.

Ultimately their undoing would occur when they had the temerity to allow another shot. Jake Guentzel broke both the shot schneid and the 3-3 tie minutes later with the game-winner, but the Predators had made their point. Not only did they belong on the ice as the 16th seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they demonstrated they could own it as well.

5/29/2017 vs. Pittsburgh
2017-05-31T14:35:21+00:00 May 31st, 2017|Goal Box|0 Comments

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