Sports Hockey

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Penguins forward Nick Bonino back on ice, but won't rush hurting foot

By Michael Traikos, Postmedia Network

Penguins' Nick Bonino (13) celebrates his goal against the Predators with teammates on the bench during Game 1 of the hockey Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh on May 29, 2017. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Penguins' Nick Bonino (13) celebrates his goal against the Predators with teammates on the bench during Game 1 of the hockey Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh on May 29, 2017. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

NASHVILLE - 

From a walking boot and crutches to a hockey skate and stick.

It’s been quite the turnaround for Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino, who returned to practice on Sunday a couple of days after he took what looked like a season-ending slap shot off the inside of his left foot in Game 2.

“It’s not that awesome,” said Bonino. “It felt OK. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I just wanted to get out there and move a little.”

The Penguins could use all the help they can get after losing 5-1 to the Predators in Game 3. Bonino’s absence was noticed as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin failed to get a shot on net and the Penguins received nothing from its third line.

Last year, Pittsburgh’s third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel (dubbed the HBK Line) was a huge reason why the team had so much success, forcing opponents to “pick their poison” and decide which of the top three lines to match up against.

This year, the team has gone for a more loaded approach. But with Nashville’s top-4 defencemen keying in on Crosby and Malkin, depth scoring has been an x-factor.

Still, Bonino said he would not rush his recovery.

“If I don’t think or the coaches and trainers don’t think I can help the team, I won’t be out there,” said Bonino, who scored a pair of goals in Game 1. “You have to be honest at this time of year. If you go in, you have to assume you’re playing the whole game. That’s the mindset going forward.

“You want your team to win, no question. At the end of the day, we all know the stakes there.”

MALKIN FRUSTRATED

Evgeni Malkin isn’t coming right out and saying it, but it’s becoming more than obvious that he and Phil Kessel haven’t been on the same page in the Stanley Cup playoffs and Malkin would probably rather play with a different right winger.

After Saturday night’s loss to the Preds, Malkin was openly critical of the Penguins power play and said he thought changes were necessary. He didn’t say taking Kessel off the first power play was something he would consider, but it sure sounded like that was what he was saying.

“Phil has had a few Grade A opportunities here in the last couple of games. It hasn't gone in the net for him,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said of Kessel, who has one goal in his last eight games. “Eventually it will because he's that good of a scorer. It's more of control what you can out there, take what the game gives you, be competitive, win puck battles.”

Sullivan added that he rarely speaks to Kessel. It’s just how they handle the relationship. Instead, Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet is charged with dealing with Kessel.

“He has a real good relationship with Phil,” Sullivan said of Tocchet. “They spend a lot of time together. I think it’s productive for both of them to have those types of informal conversations ... I don’t always pay attention to them. I think if it’s something that (Tocchet) thinks he needs to raise to my attention he’ll share it with me.”

MURRAY'S TURN

After getting pulled in Game 2, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne bounced back for the win in Game 3. Now, it’s Matt Murray’s turn.

The Penguins goalie, who gave up five goals on 33 shots, is 8-0 after a loss in the playoffs going back to last year. Judging by how Sullivan was talking about the rookie, you can expect Murray will get a chance to add to that perfect record.

“I just think he has the ability to move by adversities,” said Sullivan. “He's a mentally tough kid. He's a real resilient kid. He doesn't let any of the outside noise, or if he thought he should have had one of the goals, he doesn't let that stuff affect him. He has the ability to move by that stuff. Usually that's a certain maturity in a player's game, regardless of the position. It might be most difficult at the goaltending position for obvious reasons. That's a maturity in someone's game that usually takes time to acquire.”

SULLIVAN NOT WORRIED

The fact that Crosby and Malkin went without a shot was a talking point following Game 3. But Sullivan said it is not worried about how his star players have been playing. After all, both have combined for 16 goals and 49 points in the post-season, including two goals and three assists in the final.

“Obviously we would like them to put more pucks on the net,” said Sullivan. “I think they had opportunities to shoot that they passed up. I don't think that's always reflective in the statistics that you guys look at.

“We certainly drill down a whole lot closer to the game than that. There are opportunities where these guys had, in pretty good areas, to put the puck on the net, and they chose not to.”

An odd coaching anomaly in Game 3: Crosby played his usual 20:42. Malkin played just 15:53. Phil Kessel only played 15:03. That gives you an indication the trouble Sullivan is having with what should be his strongest line. By comparison, Colton Sissons played 17:36 for Nashville.

GAUDREAU DOING 'TERRIFIC JOB'

Rookie Frederick Gaudreau has been a real surprise in the final for the Preds. Expected to be a depth or defensive forward, Gaudreau has impressed with his offensive play.

Oddly enough, Gaudreau, who never scored as many as 20 goals as a junior, scored 25 this season in the American Hockey League. He has two goals in the final so far.

“He came highly regarded from our minor league club as a very, very smart two-way player that would not hurt us in any zone, and would be able to contribute inside the game,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. “While a lot of these guys have come up from Milwaukee, he's probably the least experienced of that group. He stepped in and has done such a terrific job.”

mtraikos@postmedia.com

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