Preda­tors will be look­ing to fail for­ward

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

NASHVILLE — Just as goal­tender Pekka Rinne had said dur­ing the Preda­tors’ dark­est play­off hour, they had life and they had hope Friday de­spite fac­ing elim­i­na­tion for the first time in their im­prob­a­ble and in­trigu­ing run to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal.

Al­though most coaches preach that wins and losses are best for­got­ten quickly, Nashville coach Peter Lavi­o­lette wanted his play­ers to hold on to the sting of be­ing over­run in a 6-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pen­guins on Thurs­day. Hate it enough, he fig­ured, and they’d be mo­ti­vated to play bet­ter be­cause they’d never want to feel so wretched again. Re­turn­ing to Nashville, where they’re 9-1 in post­sea­son play, meant it was time to shift fo­cus to­ward what they can still ac­com­plish in­stead of be­moan­ing what might have been.

“We’ve got a lot of con­fi­dence in our group to be bet­ter, to get bet­ter, and to play a good game,” Lavi­o­lette said Friday. “I don’t think that there’s any search­ing going on in there on how we’re going to do this or what needs to take place. We need to play a bet­ter game. We’ve proven that we can and we have in the past, and there’s a lot of con­fi­dence that we will in a couple days.”

The Preda­tors can take heart from know­ing there has been lit­tle car­ry­over of mo­men­tum from one game to the next in the play­offs this spring.

Three teams have lost by six goals but each re­bounded to win the next game, in­clud­ing the Ducks’ 7-1 loss to Edmonton in Game 6 of their sec­ond-round se­ries fol­lowed by a 2-1 victory over the Oil­ers in Game 7. If there has been one con­stant in th­ese play­offs — in ad­di­tion to spotty of­fi­ci­at­ing — it’s that there is no con­sis­tency within games and within se­ries.

That re­mains true in the Cup Fi­nal. The Pen­guins won the first two games at home, were outscored 9-2 in los­ing Games 3 and 4 on the road, and blew the Preda­tors out of PPG Paints Arena in Game 5 with a for­mi­da­ble dis­play of speed and fi­nesse. It can’t be good news for the Preda­tors that Phil Kes­sel (one goal, three points), Ev­geni Malkin (one goal, two points) and Sid­ney Crosby (three as­sists) hit stride si­mul­ta­ne­ously and em­phat­i­cally.

“They seemed to have a lot of stuff going,” Rinne said af­ter Nashville’s loss Thurs­day, the last two pe­ri­ods of which he watched from the bench. “Their best play­ers were their best play­ers and played with a lot of speed, cre­ated a lot of good space. I think ev­ery­body saw a lot of the goals were on nice pass­ing plays.”

The Cup will be at Bridge­stone Arena on Sun­day for Game 6 in all its gleam­ing glory, ready to be kissed and passed from hand to hand. If the Pen­guins can break the pat­tern of home teams hav­ing won each game, they’ll take it back to Pittsburgh as the first team to win back-to-back cham­pi­onships since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. If Rinne can again be the wall he was in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville, where he yielded only two goals in 52 shots, there will be a Game 7 at Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“The thing about the play­offs, if we win Games 3 and 4, then for sure we’re going to win Game 5, right? And it just doesn’t work that way in the play­offs,” Lavi­o­lette said. “You know, ev­ery game is its own chap­ter. It’s its own slice of the pie, and you’ve got to go out and fight for that slice ev­ery day and be ready to write that chap­ter. Last chap­ter doesn’t have any­thing to do with it.”

Pen­guins coach Mike Sul­li­van agreed.

“Some­times just ev­ery game tends to take on its own iden­tity,” he said. “I think we’re just try­ing to pre­pare for that one game ahead of us, and we’re hope­ful that we’ll put our best game on the ice.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine them top­ping their per­for­mance Thurs­day, when Crosby dom­i­nated from the start and 12 play­ers earned at least one point. Winger Jake Guentzel’s sec­ond-pe­riod as­sist gave him 21 play­off points and tied the record for a rookie in one play­off year, set by Min­nesota’s Dino Cic­carelli in 1981 and matched in 2010 by Philadel­phia’s Ville Leino. Crosby tied De­nis Potvin for 19th in all­time play­off points, with 164, and recorded his 56th mul­ti­point play­off game, ty­ing Glenn Anderson and Paul Cof­fey for the fourth-most be­hind Wayne Gret­zky’s 108.

For those seek­ing omens, there’s this: The Pen­guins clinched each of their pre­vi­ous Cup ti­tles on the road, win­ning at Min­nesota in 1991, at Chicago in 1992, at Detroit in 2009 and at San Jose last year. But Sul­li­van isn’t look­ing for cos­mic signs. He’s just look­ing for one win.

“I be­lieve that this group un­der­stands the cir­cum­stances that we’re in. I think they have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence to draw on,” he said. “So we un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult this game is going to be and how hard that we’re going to have to play and how pre­pared we’re going to have to be ul­ti­mately to have suc­cess.”

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