Sports Hockey

STANLEY CUP FINAL

Five players Predators need to step up in Game 6

By Michael Traikos, Postmedia Network

Predators coach Peter Laviolette and players pause at the bench during the third period against the Penguins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Predators coach Peter Laviolette and players pause at the bench during the third period against the Penguins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh on Thursday, June 8, 2017. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

NASHVILLE - 

The last time we checked, the Nashville Predators did not have a Sidney Crosby in their lineup. Nor do they have an Evgeni Malkin or a Phil Kessel or even a Jake Guentzel.

Not many do.

But what the Predators do have is a roster full of players who are capable of collectively stepping up and taking a game over. We saw it in Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup final, when goalie Pekka Rinne allowed two goals combined, the defence limited Pittsburgh’s big guns to little to no shots and players like Frederick Gaudreau and Calle Jarnkrok became unlikely heroes.

Nashville will need more of that in Game 6 on Sunday if it hopes to force a deciding Game 7.

After all, it wasn’t just Crosby (three assists) who shined for Pittsburgh on Thursday night. From Malkin (goal and an assist) and Kessel (goal and two assists) to goals from Justin Schultz and Ron Hainsey to a shutout performance from Matt Murray, everyone in a Penguins jersey stepped up.

Here are five players that Nashville will be counting on for similar performances in Game 6:

Pekka Rinne

First off, Rinne is starting in net for Game 6. It’s not even a question. It’s also no secret that Rinne has been a different goalie at home versus on the road. It’s not just a small difference either. In Pittsburgh, he allowed 11 goals in three games, was pulled twice and had a .755 save percentage. At home, Rinne’s been, well, more at home. He was spectacular in Games 3 and 4, where he allowed just two goals. His record in Nashville during the playoffs is 9-1, having allowed just 15 goals in 10 games. “With regard to Pekka, our guys have a tremendous amount of confidence in him,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. “We've just got to do a better job in front of him.”

P.K. Subban

Maybe it’s because he’s put himself front and centre in every story, but Subban’s offensive impact on the series has been pretty minimal. He has just two assists after five games, though he had a goal disallowed in Game 1. That’s not nearly enough for a player who is on Nashville’s top power play unit and entered the Stanley Cup final with 10 points in 16 games. Of course, Subban is more than just a scorer these days. If he can hold either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin — he’s seen more of the latter in the series — off the scoresheet, that might be as good as a goal scored the other way. Then again, a big goal wouldn’t be bad either.

Filip Forsberg

When Ryan Johansen went down with a playoff-ending injury in Game 4 of the conference final, Forsberg stepped up and scored a goal and two assists to help the Predators advance to the Stanley Cup final. Since then, his only point was an empty-net goal. That’s simply not good enough from a player who scored 31 goals in the regular season and who has been Nashville’s top offensive player in the playoffs. Like Crosby, the Predators feed off Forsberg. They need him to start leading. After all, the nickname his teammates gave him earlier in the playoffs was Mr. Clutch.

Roman Josi

It was a rough night for Predators’ defence on Thursday. But don’t include Josi in that category. Though he lost defence partner Ryan Ellis in the first couple of minutes of the second period, he didn’t lose a step. In fact, Josi wasn’t on the ice for a single one of Pittsburgh’s goals. That’s pretty good, considering he played nearly 25 minutes, often against Crosby’s line. Still, it wasn’t the result Josi was looking for. And by the end of the night, he was trying to fight Malkin. With Ellis’ status up in the air, Josi will need to bring that same attitude to Game 6 as well as his usual offensive game — he has a goal and three assists in the series — if Nashville hopes to rebound.

James Neal

In some ways, Neal is Nashville’s Phil Kessel. He’s a scorer, a pure sniper who can run hot and cold, but who has the ability to change the game with just one shot. Right now, Neal hasn’t been changing much. He was on fire early in the playoffs, when he had five goals in seven games during the second and third rounds. But he’s cooled off since then, having scored once in the last nine games. What is promising is that Neal has been getting chances. He has taken 17 shots in the final, including seven in Game 2. Eventually, they should start going in. Hopefully for the Predators, it’s sooner rather than later.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

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