Predators' season, Stanley Cup hopes hinge on final home game

Michael Crowe reports from Market Square where they will host a watch party for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 12.June 9, 2017-4pm

To capture the prevailing sense of optimism that the Predators are carrying with them these days, read the following three quotes and see if you detect a pattern:

“It’s June,” Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “We’re playing hockey, so everything’s great so far.”

“It’s a tough spot, but we’re playing in June right now,” Predators forward Colin Wilson said. “Life’s good.”

"We're here for a reason," Predators forward Filip Forsberg said. "We're playing hockey in June, and it's obviously a privilege."

The ugliest playoff loss in team history and the possibility of elimination aren't enough to detract the Predators from their sunny outlook. But let's introduce a dose of stone-cold reality into this situation.

If the Predators don't defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday, they won't be playing in June anymore. Neither will the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they will be parading their second consecutive championship around the Bridgestone Arena ice.

"We need to win this game," Forsberg said. "We don't really see it any other way."

As with any scenario, there are multiple ways to dissect what the Predators are preparing to experience Sunday. To complement the team's positivity, let's start there.

The Predators, who have lost consecutive games once through 21 playoff games, are 9-1 at Bridgestone Arena this postseason, and the home team has won each game of this series by a combined 24-6 score. In each of the previous three rounds, the Penguins lost the first game in which they could eliminate their opponent.

"I know our guys don't sit in (the locker room) and wonder how we're going to do this," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think we're an extremely confident group. ... We've found a certain way to play the game with a certain identity, and when we do that, usually the wins follow."

And now for the bad news. The Penguins have won each of their four Stanley Cups on the road, so they're used to party-crashing trophy presentations. The past two games also have been Pittsburgh's best in terms of creating offense.

Through three Stanley Cup Final games, the Penguins generated 13 high-danger scoring chances at even strength, according to naturalstattrick.com. They nearly doubled that amount in Games 4 and 5, producing a total of 24.

The Predators' team defense has noticeably slipped, and Nashville may be without defenseman Ryan Ellis, who didn't complete Thursday's loss for an undisclosed reason.

A shorthanded defense wouldn't support the Predators' efforts to silence Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin and forward Phil Kessel. The league's top three leading scorers this postseason combined for eight points Thursday. 

''It just seems to be like that every second game — they're talking about how good we play defense, and then the other game, they talk about how good they are as (an) offense,'' Ekholm said. ''And that's just (how it's) going to be. It's world-class players. We can't shut them down game after game. ... On Sunday, we're going to have great defense again."

On Sunday, the Stanley Cup will be wheeled into Bridgestone Arena. Its guardians will be ready to don white gloves and remove the silver trophy from a velvet-lined case if necessary.

The Stanley Cup can't be prepped for the Predators on Sunday. But they can delay its appearance until a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday with an elimination-avoiding victory.

"Definitely want to keep it in the box," Predators forward James Neal said. 

Reach Adam Vingan at avingan@tennessean.com and on Twitter @AdamVingan.

PREDATORS vs. PENGUINS

Penguins lead Stanley Cup Final 3-2

All games start at 7 p.m. CT and broadcast on 102.5-FM

Game 1: Pittsburgh 5, Nashville 3

Game 2: Pittsburgh 4, Nashville 1

Game 3: Nashville 5, Pittsburgh 1

Game 4: Nashville 4, Pittsburgh 1

Game 5: Pittsburgh 6, Nashville 0

Sunday: at Nashville (NBC)

x — Wednesday: at Pittsburgh (NBC)

x — if necessary

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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