Net play is key for Cup run

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT he­lene.el­liott@la­ Twit­ter: @he­le­nenothe­len

He­lene El­liott says a big fo­cus of Game 5 will be the play of Rinne, Mur­ray.

PITTS­BURGH — The goal­tender whose job se­cu­rity was doubted two games into the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal is now be­ing hailed as a sea­son-sav­ing hero, while the goalie cred­ited with the first two wins has been sub­jected to spec­u­la­tion that he might not start Game 5 on Thurs­day at PPG Paints Arena.

This post­sea­son tour­na­ment has been filled with abrupt ups and downs and no car­ry­over of mo­men­tum from one game to the next. That pat­tern has con­tin­ued into the Fi­nal, es­pe­cially in net.

Nashville Preda­tors goalie Pekka Rinne, who gave up eight goals on 36 shots in los­ing the first two games (a .777 save per­cent­age), gave up merely two goals on 52 shots (.962) as the Preda­tors tied the se­ries at home.

Pen­guins goalie Matt Mur­ray, who stopped 60 of 64 shots he faced in the first two games (.938), gave up eight goals on 58 shots in the third and fourth games (.862).

Preda­tors coach Peter Lavi­o­lette sen­si­bly stuck with Rinne af­ter the Finn’s flawed per­for­mances and was re­warded with two ex­cep­tional ef­forts. The crowd stuck with Rinne too, chant­ing his name in warmups in a goose bumprais­ing show of sup­port.

Pen­guins coach Mike Sul­li­van, asked about mak­ing a change in net, in­di­cated he trusts Mur­ray. It wouldn’t make sense to switch to Marc-An­dre Fleury, who hasn’t played since May 17.

“We didn’t lose the game [Monday] be­cause of our goal­tend­ing,” Sul­li­van said.

So here they are, each team hav­ing de­fended home ice twice, the Preda­tors try­ing to be the first to sus­tain mo­men­tum and the Pen­guins try­ing to take con­trol be­fore the car­a­van heads back to Nashville, where the Preda­tors are 9-1 in the play­offs. The Cup will be at Bridge­stone Arena on Sun­day, to be pa­raded or to be packed in its case for a Game 7 on June 14 in Pitts­burgh.

“Two out of three now. It’s pedal down,” Preda­tors cap­tain Mike Fisher said Wed­nes­day. “We’re ready.”

They ap­pear poised to make their move af­ter outscor­ing the Pen­guins 9-2 in the last two games and hold­ing Pitts­burgh’s power play score­less for the third straight game. Nashville’s mo­bile de­fense corps has proved to be gritty too, and if Ro­man Josi’s tal­ents weren’t com­mon knowl­edge be­fore the Fi­nal, they are now.

“As long as I’ve been there, our D men, they’ve been the core of our team,” said Rinne, who was drafted by the Preda­tors in the eighth round in 2004 and made his NHL de­but in the 2005-06 sea­son. “This group is re­ally spe­cial.”

So is he, a qual­ity goalie who en­dured many sea­sons when the Preda­tors lacked size or phys­i­cal­ity or scor­ing. They’re a com­plete team now and two wins from their first cham­pi­onship.

“I’ve been play­ing for a long time, never had this op­por­tu­nity. It means ev­ery­thing to me right now,” Rinne said. “Just liv­ing my dream right now.”

The de­fend­ing cham­pion Pen­guins spoke about build­ing on the pos­i­tives they took from Game 4. Among the en­cour­ag­ing signs Sul­li­van saw was im­proved puck move­ment on their power play.

“There are a lot of good things we liked,” he said, but he ac­knowl­edged they pressed in the third pe­riod and as a re­sult gave up too many chances off the rush.

Mur­ray also had a pos­i­tive mind-set.

“We prob­a­bly had our best game of the se­ries last game, so we did a lot of good things and we were out-chanc­ing them, so that was good,” he said. “The puck just wasn’t go­ing in for us. So stick­ing to our game plan is im­por­tant.”

As for him­self, “I thought I was OK,” he said. “Not great, but I thought I was pretty good in Game 4. I think if I make the save on that break­away [by Vik­tor Arvids­son for Nashville’s third goal], then it’s a dif­fer­ent game, but all in all I thought I played pretty well.”

He will have to be bet­ter. So will for­wards Phil Kes­sel (no goals in six games) and Ev­geni Malkin, who had two shots on goal in Game 4 af­ter tak­ing none in Game 3, and was mi­nus-three de­fen­sively in the two games. “They play hard ev­ery shift. But I be­lieve my team. I be­lieve my­self. We have great team,” Malkin said.

He also said the Pen­guins should try to wear down the Preda­tors’ de­fense­men, specif­i­cally Josi and P.K. Sub­ban.

“We need to spend more time in the of­fen­sive zone. They get tired, for sure,” Malkin said. “They play a ton of min­utes, Sub­ban and Josi. They play like 25 min­utes ev­ery game. They’re tired for sure.

“Last game I think we play good. We have so much scor­ing chances, but Rinne play­ing very well. If we play same way like that we will have great chance to win.”

Maybe not, if Rinne plays the same way he did in Game 4.

“We know who we’re fac­ing, in their build­ing. We’ve got to be ready to be at our best,” Fisher said. “We know it’s an ex­cit­ing chal­lenge. I think you’ll see we’ll be ready for it.”

Pho­to­graphs by Bruce Bennett Getty Images

PEKKA RINNE, left, was sharp in goal as Preda­tors tied se­ries in Nashville. The mind-set of Pen­guins’ Matt Mur­ray is pos­i­tive as play re­turns to Pitts­burgh.

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