Where: PPG PAINTS Arena, Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ high-octane offense looks to get back on track in Thursday’s Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the visiting Nashville Predators after being stuck in neutral for the previous two contests in the Music City. Captain Sidney Crosby ended his Stanley Cup Final drought of 12 games without a goal by tallying in Monday’s 4-1 setback, but Pittsburgh was outscored 9-2 in Games 3 and 4 to see the best-of-seven series knotted at 2-2.
“We’re confident our team will respond the right way, as they always have all season long,” coach Mike Sullivan said of the Penguins, who have seen Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust mired in respective six-game goal droughts while former Predator Patric Hornqvist has failed to tally in his last five. “I believe we have great leadership in our room. We’ve got good players. They understand the circumstances and we’ve felt as though, with each game that we’ve played here, our team game is getting stronger.” Nashville’s Frederick Gaudreau continued his brilliant series by scoring the decisive goal for the second straight contest, joining fellow rookie Jake Guentzel of Pittsburgh by accounting for all four-game winning goals in the Stanley Cup Final. “(Gaudreau’s) been unbelievable for us, just the way he’s come in and he’s been so good with the timely goals and so composed,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said of the 24-year-old, who had one assist in nine regular-season NHL games in his career.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVAS
ABOUT THE PREDATORS: Franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne silenced critics by turning aside 50 of 52 shots in his last two games to improve to 9-1 at home in the postseason, but his play in Pittsburgh leaves plenty to be desired. The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist has yielded at least four goals in each contest en route to losing all five of his career decisions in the Steel City, including eight tallies on 36 shots collectively in Games 1 and 2. Rinne’s defense has been up to the task in the last two contests, but P.K. Subban’s availability for Game 5 could be in question as the blue-liner was not on the ice to begin practice Wednesday after blocking Evgeni Malkin’s shot late the third period in Game 4.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: In a move that parallels that of Nashville coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 3, Sullivan refused to reveal the identity of his starting netminder for Game 5 after Matt Murray yielded eight goals on 58 shots in the last two contests. For his part, the 23-year-old Murray admitted he wouldn’t spill the beans even if he was in on the secret, telling the team’s website Wednesday that “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.” Murray has posted a 5-3 mark with a 2.08 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in the past nine games after missing the first two rounds of the playoffs because of a lower-body injury, with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury recording a 9-6 mark with a 2.56 GAA and .924 save percentage.
1. The team that has won Game 5 after a split of the first four contests of the Final has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 17 of 24 times since the series went to the best-of-seven format in 1939.
2. Nashville C Filip Forsberg (team-leading 16 points) dented the scoresheet for the first time in the Stanley Cup Final with his club-best ninth goal Monday.
3. Pittsburgh needs to find a way to ignite its sputtering power play, which is 1-for-16 in the first four contests of the Stanley Cup Final – with its lone tally coming on a 5-on-3 advantage in Game 1.