Game 4 overtime victory was Juuse Saros' masterpiece for Nashville Predators | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

Juuse Saros has had other masterpieces. Game 4 wasn’t his best performance, necessarily.

But there have been none more important – or heroic.

This was his playoff moment for the Nashville Predators.

More than any other game in this heartstopping – and now tied – first-round playoff series, Sunday’s 4-3 double overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at Bridgestone Arena was about the goaltenders.

Series tied 2-2:Luke Kunin lifts Nashville Predators to 2OT victory

More:Video highlights, score from Game 4 in NHL playoffs

More:Drew and Ellie Holcomb sing national anthem before Game 4  

Both were outstanding – one of them a Canes rookie outplaying his experience, the other continuing to carry these Predators and affirm his status among the NHL’s elite.

After tying a franchise record with 52 saves in Game 3, Saros beat it with 58 in Game 4. That made him the second goalie in NHL history with back-to-back playoff games of at least 50 saves.

The Predators won both home games in overtime, evening up this series as it heads back to Raleigh for Game 5, giving Nashville a realistic chance to advance when hardly anyone believed it would.

It was difficult to find paths to victory for the plucky Predators against a fearsome Hurricanes team with 80 points in the regular season, third-best in the NHL. There were good reasons hardly anyone was picking against the Canes.

One exception to that, though, was Saros.

He had played magnificently in the past weeks. He changed an underwhelming Predators team, far more than anyone else. Without Saros’ heroics, the Predators wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near these playoffs.

"He's been our best player all year," teammate Luke Kunin said.

More:Luke Kunin earns spotlight in Game 4, but Juuse Saros is the Nashville Predators' real MVP

More:Titans OT Taylor Lewan leads second-period standing ovation while chugging a beer shirtless

You had to expect at some point in this series that would matter, that Saros would be able to swipe a game largely on his own.

And that ended up being Game 4.

Nothing against the Canes’ young goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic. He has been highly impressive in this series, considering it has been his introduction to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nedeljkovic shut out the Predators to win Game 2. On Sunday, he got the start again – a case could have been made to sit him after five goals in Friday’s loss – and played extremely well.

But Saros was a bit better – doing it against more pressure than Nedeljkovic saw.

Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) defends the net against Carolina Hurricanes left wing Warren Foegele (13) during the first overtime in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, May 23, 2021.

Saros has done it throughout this series. It was one-sided traffic in Game 1, too. Saros deserved better for his performance in Game 2, holding the Canes to one goal until he was pulled for an extra attacker in the final moments. Then Game 3 was just a classic, clutch, tireless performance under immense pressure.

Game 4 had that too, though it began to take the form of a duel between goalies. Both were making magic all afternoon, one making a tough save and the other matching it.

Nedeljkovic made a huge stop against a two-on-none that could have put the Predators in front 3-1 in the second period. Then in the final minute of regulation, he somehow covered an open net to stop Nick Cousins’ potential game-winner – the save of the game at the time.

Saros wasn’t perfect Sunday, but who would have been? The Canes finished Sunday with a 61-43 edge over the Predators in shots on goal (it was 44-26 in regulation). Multiple times, Carolina swarmed the offensive zone and didn’t ease up. Saros withstood the storms. He usually does.

After four games of this series, a difficult truth has been solidified for the Predators. They really are facing a team better than they are – smoother, more skilled, just as physical. 

Doesn’t mean the Canes are going to win every puck battle and every period, and they haven’t. But they’ve overwhelmed the Predators a lot more than the other way around. Even at two games apiece, you still favor the Canes to advance with two of the next three games in Raleigh.

But they’ve got to score, and to do that, they’ve got to get past Saros.

In that matchup – and only that matchup – do you have to like the Predators’ chances. And that could make all the difference. It sure has already this season.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.