Preda­tors look for road magic in Game 5

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY WILL GRAVES

PITTS­BURGH | Some­where be­tween the cat­fish lob­bing , A-list na­tional an­them singers, Car­rie Un­der­wood’s for­get­ful­ness , Charles Barkley’s sur­prise cameo and P.K. Sub­ban’s breath, there’s been an­other no­table de­vel­op­ment dur­ing the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal:

A se­ries has bro­ken out. Per­haps the seeds of an up­set, too.

A week ago, the Nashville Preda­tors headed home down 2-0 to the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup cham­pion Pitts­burgh Pen­guins. Pekka Rinne’s game seemed to be in tat­ters and the Pen­guins fan base was mus­ing whether it pre­ferred a clean sweep or just a split of the two games in Nashville so the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons could raise the Cup on home ice.

So, about that.

The vibe in­side PPG Paints Arena for Game 5 on Thurs­day night fig­ures to be more anx­ious than an­tic­i­pa­tory af­ter the Preda­tors evened the se­ries at 2-2 with a pair of vin­tage per­for­mances on home ice that sent “Smashville” into a frenzy and de­liv­ered a very clear mes­sage that the first-timers are a clear threat to be­come first-time win­ners.

Through four games, Nashville has more goals, more shots on goal and a bit more swag­ger than Pitts­burgh. What be­gan as a two-month slog to the Cup is now a three-game dash, one that ap­pears to be a coin flip. The Pen­guins have the ex­pe­ri­ence. The Preda­tors have the mo­men­tum. Both are fight­ing fa­tigue with adren­a­line.

“I know peo­ple talk about how we’re tired, but be­lieve me, they’re tired too,” Pitts­burgh for­ward Ev­geni Malkin said. “It’s not only us tired. It’s only three games left. We’re not talk­ing about be­ing tired.”

Maybe, but Nashville ap­peared a step quicker in its home build­ing, pour­ing in nine goals and hand­ing Pen­guins goalie Matt Mur­ray the first back-to-back play­off losses of his young ca­reer. Pitts­burgh coach Mike Sul­li­van isn’t con­cerned about Mur­ray. He’s not re­ally worried about the 190 feet in front of Mur­ray, ei­ther. The Pen­guins have come within

two games of the first team to cap­ture con­sec­u­tive Cups in nearly two decades due in large part to their re­siliency.

And while cap­tain Sid­ney Crosby says the “des­per­a­tion level” will ramp up, Sul­li­van was quick to point out the term doesn’t mean what you think it means.

“’Des­per­ate’ is a funny word for me be­cause it gets thrown around our game a lot,” Sul­li­van said. “It al­ways has a con­no­ta­tion of hope­less­ness. I don’t be­lieve that’s the word that we want to use to de­scribe our team. I think we’ve got to play with ur­gency. I think we’ve got to play de­ter­mined. I think we have to play with con­vic­tion. I think when our team plays that way, we’re at our very best.”

Pitts­burgh is just 7-7 over its last 14 games and has been lim­ited to just one goal in six of its past 11 — in­clud­ing the two losses in Nashville. Still, Pitts­burgh is pretty good in the house that owner Mario Lemieux built. The Pen­guins fin­ished with the sec­ond-best home record in the league and have ripped off five straight vic­to­ries on home ice since Ot­tawa stunned them in Game 1 of the Eastern Con­fer­ence fi­nals, in­clud­ing the first two games of the Cup fi­nal when they needed just 36 shots to beat Rinne eight times.

Funny, Rinne hardly looked rat­tled back home, hold­ing Pitts­burgh to just two goals com­bined as Nashville ral­lied to tie things up in front of a giddy home crowd that in­cluded Un­der­wood, who was so caught up in Cup fever she over­looked hus­band Mike Fisher’s 37th birth­day. Not that Fisher or his team­mates keep­ing track any­way. Not with the ul­ti­mate prize so close at hand.

When the play­offs started in midApril, the Preda­tors were the last team in. Now they’re two vic­to­ries away from a ti­tle few saw com­ing. At least one of those wins will have to come in Pitts­burgh, where Rinne has never won a game.

Maybe it’s fit­ting con­sid­er­ing the 19-sea­son jour­ney they’ve taken to get to this point. They’ll take their chances.

“We have no home ice, we knew that com­ing in,” coach Peter Lavi­o­lette said. “We have to win a road game. There’s no other way around it.”

The Preda­tors are 5-5 when forced to wear the road whites, in­clud­ing a Game 5 vic­tory against Ana­heim in the West fi­nals. Save for a pair of flur­ries (one at the end of the first pe­riod in Game 1, the other at the be­gin­ning of the third pe­riod in Game 2) Nashville has been ev­ery bit Pitts­burgh’s equal.

“I think we’re go­ing to ex­pect their best hockey in their rink,” Preda­tors for­ward James Neal said. “I think both teams have got­ten bet­ter through­out the se­ries and that’s ex­pected. It’s go­ing to be a bat­tle go­ing in there and we need to steal one in their arena.”

Do it and they might not steal a ti­tle, but earn one.


The Nashville Preda­tors handed Pitts­burgh Pen­guins goalie Matt Mur­ray the first backto-back play­off losses of his ca­reer in Games 3 and 4 of the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nals.

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