NASHVILLE – If Ryan Ellis can’t go in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators will be ready to mix up their defense pairings as they face elimination against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Matt Irwin would likely move up to play with Roman Josi and Anthony Bitetto could fill in for Ellis and see his first action of the playoffs on a pairing with Yannick Weber. Despite the stakes being what they are Sunday night, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette is confident if changes need to be made.
“Matt’s been terrific. He’s moved around the lineup,” he said. “Back when we were coming off of November and we went into December and half of January there, we had different defensemen going out for different reasons, and Matt was excellent at moving up.
“He’s a guy — he’s a big, strong player, whether he was playing with Ekholm or whether he was playing with Josi or whether he was playing with Ellis, he did a really good job moving up the lineup.”
The Predators used many different pairings during the season, so Irwin moving up and Bitetto’s insertion into the lineup wouldn’t do too much to disrupt any established chemistry.
“We’ve all played with each other, so we’re confident with whoever goes over those boards. It’s just a matter of communication, just like you do with your D pairings as is,” said Irwin. “It’s just a lot of talk.”
Bitetto last played in the Predators’ regular season finale on April 8. He’s filled in before when injuries hit, so this isn’t a new situation for him. It’s been a long wait, but now he could be needed in a tight spot.
“I’m in all the meetings and preparing like I’m going to play every game. You have to this time of the year,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. Obviously, we know what’s happening and you scout those teams, but for me, it’s just mentally being ready even if I’m not playing.”
With Ellis being a game-time decision, it’s a waiting game for Bitetto, and if he was aware that he was next in line, he wasn’t sharing Sunday morning.
“It’s kind of been the motto ‘next guy up,’” he said. “So at 7 o’clock, when the lineup’s set in stone, we’ll see.”
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