NASHVILLE – Close, but still so far.
That was Evgeni Malkin’s thought after the Pittsburgh Penguins took Game 5 and moved within a victory from a second straight Stanley Cup title. They are on the cusp of something historical, but there’s so much work left to do.
Home teams have held serve in this Final, which makes Games 6 an interesting one. The Nashville Predators have been great at Bridgestone Arena in these playoffs (9-1), but Sunday night isn’t your typical Cup game. It could be the final game of the season and the Penguins’ play has improved mightily over the last few games compared to earlier in the series. Their scoring chances have increased as well as their high-danger chances against Pekka Rinne, who has been pulled twice in this series.
“We knew coming out of the first two games that we probably didn’t play our best and were fortunate to be in the position that we were in, and we felt as though we played a little bit better than the results we got in Nashville,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
“I think we’ve got a realistic assessment of where our team is at. We believe that we’re gaining traction and momentum with each game that we play, and we understand that the next one is going to be the hardest, and so we’re going to have to reset our mindset and be ready to play that game.”
The Predators could be without defenseman Ryan Ellis for Game 6, which would be a blow for their top four on the blue line. Pittsburgh was very aggressive in dictating pace, which led to a lead that quickly grew out of hand in Game 5. That’s the recipe that’s helped them find success at PPG Paints Arena. Now comes the challenge of finally breaking the trend of home team dominance in the series.
“Just specifically knowing it comes down to one game for us to be able to execute,” said Chris Kunitz after Game 5. “I think if we put effort like this we have a good chance of winning. But we have to go out there, look at the video and see what we did well and try and duplicate it.”
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