Luke Kunin earns spotlight in Game 4, but Juuse Saros is the Nashville Predators' real MVP
Luke Kunin started it with a goal 57 seconds into Sunday's game at Bridgestone Arena. Luke Kunin ended it, in double-overtime again, with the winning goal. Luke Kunin extended it, meaning the Nashville Predators' first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Juuse Saros was the "stud," as teammate Ryan Johansen called him after Saros made a postseason franchise-record 58 shots in the Predators' 4-3, double-overtime victory, their second straight double-overtime win, which evened the first-round series 2-2.
In the process, Saros became just the second goalie in NHL history, along with Curtis Joseph (1993), with 50-plus saves in back-to-back playoff games. He tied the franchise record and set a career high with 52 saves Friday.
"He's been our best player all year," Kunin said of Saros.
Still, the Predators will have to make franchise history or their 2020-21 season will be history.
Zero times in 10 attempts have the Predators come back from a 2-1 deficit in a seven-game playoff series, which they faced going into Game 4.
Such comebacks aren’t impossible, but rather improbable, considering teams in such a position were 1-12 last season and 154-362 in league history.
A 4-3, double-overtime victory in front of what appeared to be way more then the 12,165 people announced in attendance – including Carrie Underwood, her husband and former Predators captain Mike Fisher and Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan, who chugged a couple of beers while shirtless – placed the Predators one step closer to that first.
"We've had some resiliency. We've had some toughness," coach John Hynes said after Game 3. "When you get into the playoffs the way we've gotten into the playoffs ... you have to put a tough loss or a big win behind you."
The same will be true going into Game 5 Tuesday night at Carolina.
A few catfish hit the ice at Bridgestone Arena, as is tradition, before the puck dropped Sunday.
Kunin became the fifth Predator to score during the first minute of a playoff game, joining Adam Hall, Johansen, James Neal and Colin Wilson
He nearly scored again a little more than a minute later, while the crowd was taunting Hurricanes goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
But the Predators managed just one shot on goal during the next 15-plus minutes.
Vincent Trocheck’s goal with 1:57 left in the first tied the score.
Johansen's second goal of the series turned out to be the Predators' second of the game Sunday. At 4:53 into the second, he shoveled in an errant rebound that Nedeljkovic appeared to lose track of for his second go-ahead goal in two games.
It came on the Predators' eighth shot on goal of the game. Moments later the Predators failed to capitalize on Yakov Trenin and Mathieu Olivier's two-on-none against Nedeljkovic.
The Hurricanes again waited until late in a period to score in the second, when Brock McGinn did the trick to tie it 2-2 with 1:55 remaining.
That left the Predators in a potentially precarious and positively pivotal position – 20 minutes away from being down 3-1 in the series and facing an elimination game Tuesday on the road in Raleigh and 20 minutes away from tying the series 2-2 and ensuring at least one more home game.
Kunin and Saros made sure the second scenario came to reality.
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