Sports Hockey

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Predators' P.K. Subban enjoying the attention of Stanley Cup final

By Michael Traikos, Postmedia Network

Predators defenceman P.K. Subban does pushups during practice in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, June 2, 2017. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

Predators defenceman P.K. Subban does pushups during practice in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday, June 2, 2017. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)

NASHVILLE - 

The crowd of reporters that was waiting where P.K. Subban was scheduled to speak on Sunday was so deep and so entrenched that at first the Nashville Predators defenceman couldn’t get to the spot where he needed to be. When he did, a TV reporter couldn’t wait to shout out the first question.

“How’s your breath?”

Sigh.

Welcome to the Stanley Cup final, supposedly brought to you by Listerine. Or better yet, brought to you by P.K. Subban.

Subban has quickly become the star of this show, more so for what he’s said off the ice than what he’s actually done on it. In Game 2, he claimed Evgeni Malkin said something inappropriate to him in Russian that sparked a fight between the two. He then guaranteed the Predators would win the following game at home.

In Game 3, Subban continued to make headlines, first telling NBC’s Pierre McGuire and then reporters afterwards that Sidney Crosby had “chirped” Subban by saying his breath stunk.

Was any of it true? That depends on whom you ask.

“Yeah, he made that up,” said Crosby when asked about Subban’s comments. “I didn’t say that.”

By then, of course, it didn’t matter. As reporters tweeted Crosby’s response, you could almost hear Subban cackling with laughter from inside the Predators dressing room. Mission accomplished. If it was a juvenile joke, it still had the effect of once again making Subban the story — and in the process had potentially annoyed Crosby — in a game where he might have been ignored.

In the 5-1 win in Game 3, it was goalie Pekka Rinne who had bounced back to stop 27 shots. It was Roman Josi who scored the tying goal, picked up two assists and was a plus-2. It was minor-league call-up Frederick Gaudreau who continued to make a name for himself by scoring the winner.

Subban had a solid game too, frustrating Crosby and Malkin, who combined for zero shots for the first time in the playoffs. But he was perhaps at his most frustrating after the final buzzer, when he seemed to take pleasure in just how effective he was in getting in Crosby’s face that the Penguins captain had complained about Subban’s bad breath.

“The gamesmanship’s awesome,” said Subban. “That’s what you love. And that’s probably what you miss the most when you’re done playing: those battles and the game within the game.”

This wasn’t Nashville’s Ryan Johansen whining in the third round that Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler was such a dirty player that his family and friends should be embarrassed. It wasn’t so much gamesmanship as it was gloating.

Or maybe it was, as Ryan Ellis had said earlier in the series when Subban grabbed a microphone and started walking around the room interviewing his teammates, another case of “Subbie being Subbie.”

“That’s part of it,” said Crosby. “He likes the attention and things like that. If he wants to make stuff up, there’s not much I can do.”

No, all you can do is ignore it.

Subban, who reportedly had a bottle of mouthwash in his dressing room stall before a team official removed it, lives for this attention. This is his first time in the Stanley Cup final and he’s acting like it. That’s not a bad thing. He’s always had a personality that belongs on the biggest stage possible. Well, now that he’s on the biggest stage, he’s enjoying the heck out of it and making the most of the opportunity.

“What’s the date today? June 4 and we’re still playing,” said Subban, who never got past the conference final when he was in Montreal. “There’s a lot of guys who haven’t been playing for a while. You have to enjoy it. It’s my first time playing in June. It’s pretty awesome.”

Crosby, meanwhile, simply put up with the nonsense.

As he sat in his stall and answered questions about bad breath and chirping, it’s hard to imagine he enjoys this part of the game. But it’s also hard to imagine that he’s affected by it.

The two-time Stanley Cup winner has spent a career going head-to-head against players whose sole purpose is to knock him off his game any way possible. None have been able to. Not Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky in the first round or Ottawa’s Dion Phaneuf in the conference final. Not even Nicklas Lidstrom, who Crosby said was his toughest opponent, was able to keep him off the scoresheet.

As for Subban, Crosby made it seem as though he didn’t even know he was playing, which seemed like a worse chirp than anything said about his breath.

“To be honest guys, I haven’t seen him much. I haven’t seen P.K. much,” said Crosby, who has seen Josi and Ryan Ellis as much as Subban and Mattias Ekholm. “We probably haven’t been in the zone enough, but I don’t feel like every time I’m out there P.K.’s out there. You guys probably watch closer than I do, but that’s the way it feels.”

Ouch.

Now that’s trash talk.

SUBBAN EXPECTS PENS' STARS TO REBOUND

NASHVILLE — For the first time in the playoffs, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin failed to combine for a single shot. But just because the Nashville Predators were able to hold Pittsburgh’s two big stars in check does not mean P.K. Subban is expecting a repeat performance.

“They’re pretty great players. I don’t think you can ever shut those guys down,” said Subban. “I think you try to take away their time and space and contain them as best you can. I’m sure they’re going to make adjustments.”

It will be interesting to see if the Penguins, who relied on three balanced lines during last year’s Stanley Cup run, decide to split up Malkin and Phil Kessel for Game 4 to get away from Nashville’s top-4 defenceman.

Either way, Subban said it’s up to the defence to make life miserable for the Penguins.

“On the ice, all bets are off,” said Subban. “That’s the reality of professional sports. There’s no friends out there. You play hard to win. I respect the fact that they’re going to come out to play and they’re going to put the puck into the corner and try to win a battle. It’s my job to try and win it regardless of who’s in the corner with me.”

mtraikos@postmedia.com

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