Flyers

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins aim for Cup repeat in rowdy Nashville

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins aim for Cup repeat in rowdy Nashville

There are coaches who will tell you that a playoff series doesn't truly start until the road team wins a game.

In the case of the Stanley Cup Final, the first road win will spell the end of the series. The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins can become the first team to repeat since Detroit in 1998 if they can crack the code of raucous Bridgestone Arena Sunday night in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators.

"We're just going to try to stay in the moment regardless of whether it needs to be played," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're going to try to play the game that gives us the best chance to win."

That game looks a whole lot like Game 5, in which the Penguins ambushed Nashville early and often, scoring six goals in the first two periods and netting a contentious 6-0 win that gave them a 3-2 series lead.

It looks nothing like Games 1 through 4, in which the Predators controlled the flow of play most of the time. While Pittsburgh created really good scoring chances in the first two periods of Game 4, it was still outshot in each of the first four games, sometimes by a lot in terms of total shots.

Nashville looked nothing like that team Thursday night, instead imitating deer frozen by headlights. Goalie Pekka Rinne lasted one period, undone by poor defense in front of him and the relentless Penguins attack.

During the 72-hour break between Games 2 and 3, Predators coach Peter Laviolette was asked repeatedly if he intended to bench Rinne. That line of questioning has been squashed during this 72-hour hiatus, in part because Laviolette wouldn't entertain it, and also because Rinne has simply been so dominant at home.

He's 9-1 in this year's playoffs at Bridgestone Arena, ceding just 15 goals and often standing on his head with spectacular saves like the ones he made in Game 4 that led Nashville to a 4-1 victory.

"He's the same every day," Laviolette said of Rinne. "He works hard every day. His demeanor seems the same to me. We've got to do a better job in front of him. I know there's things we can do that can support our goaltender better."

One thing can be accomplished simply by playing at home. In addition to the deafening crowd that seems to act as an extra skater, wearing the gold uniforms gives the Predators the final change. That allows Laviolette to use his top defense pairings more in faceoff situations to better counter the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But what if Nashville's Big Four defensively becomes a Big Three? Ryan Ellis, who left Game 5 in the second period with an upper-body injury, didn't practice on Saturday.

However, Ellis was on the ice skating on Sunday morning, and the Predators are hoping Ellis will be able to play.

If he's not able to go, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm may have to soak up extra minutes.

Regardless, the Predators will be a formidable foe on friendly ice, especially now that they're in win-or-else mode. No one knows that better than the team trying to knock them out.

"We have to approach it like the team that's playing for its life tomorrow," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "Everybody's focus will be on getting off to a real good start because if we don't, it could be a rough night."

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 6 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Sunday afternoon for Game 6 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers vs. Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-2)
3 p.m. on NBC; Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSP+ with Postgame Live after final buzzer

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Michael Raffl-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Scratches: Forwards Oskar Lindblom, Jordan Weal and Taylor Leier; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Dominik Simon, Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Ivan Provorov
The Flyers' minute-munching defenseman was dinged up in the final 90 seconds of the Game 5 win. Provorov's presence is vital if the Flyers want to push the series to a Game 7. He logged 30 minutes in Game 5 and the Flyers needed him on the ice during the final minute when Sidney Crosby nearly tied the game. Provorov hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and while I don’t expect him to miss Game 6, watch closely to see if he’s limited in any way.

Bold prediction: Game 6 will be decided in overtime. You have to go back to the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Devils to find the Flyers' last playoff game decided in overtime — a stretch of 20 straight in the postseason. As poorly as the Flyers have played on home ice in this series, Game 6 will be competitive as Michal Neuvirth will turn in another solid effort to keep the game close.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on:
Flyers on home ice​
The Penguins have outscored the Flyers, 20-4, in eight games at the Wells Fargo Center this season, including the playoffs. No one thought there would be a Game 6, yet here we are. The Flyers extended their season one more game, but how will they fare on home ice? Home ice hasn't treated the Flyers well vs. Pittsburgh; they have to figure it out today.

Bold prediction: The Flyers are so unpredictable. With that said, I don't see this series going back to Pittsburgh. This one will be close; perhaps the Flyers even take the lead. But in the end, the Penguins come out on top, and the Flyers schedule their vacations.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Michal Neuvirth
Neuvirth is arguably the most important player on the ice for the Flyers. With the lineup employed, the Flyers are trying to muddy things up in an attempt to force the Penguins out of their style. A more physical, low-risk approach keeps the Flyers in it, but to play such a game, you desperately need your goalie to do his part. Neuvirth is 3-1-0 with 133 saves on 137 shots for a 1.01 goals-against average in his last four playoff starts. Can he have sustained success against these Penguins?

Bold prediction: The team that has scored first has won every game of the series. That will change in Game 6 as momentum swings will be felt at a lively, pressure-filled Wells Fargo Center.

Recommended reading
• Flyers' fate lies with Neuvirth ... and that's a good thing

• Hakstol's unconventional decisions keep season alive

• With Giroux's story, heroic Couturier pulls a Pronger

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

ap-michal-neuvirth-sidney-crosby.jpg
AP Images

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — And now comes the real test.

Watch the Flyers one night and they may look unbeatable. The next night they’ll come out flatter than Kyrie Irving’s view of Earth.  

The Flyers, maddeningly inconsistent at times — OK, most of the time — will need to build off of Friday’s Game 5 win to keep the series alive with a win in Sunday’s Game 6.

It’s now or never for these Flyers.

After steamrolling the Penguins in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Flyers returned to home ice with all the momentum in the world. And we all know what happened next. A 5-1 drubbing in Game 3, a loss seemingly dolled out before the horn sounded after the first period.

This time around, though, the orange and black will have a huge upgrade they were dearly missing in Games 3 and 4.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth. Yes, that’s right, the oft-injured Neuvirth is the Flyers’ best and only hope of forcing a Game 7. That’s not a hot take, either. Just check out the numbers.

Neuvirth’s playoff numbers are staggering. His .930 career playoff save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average rank third and fourth, respectively, among active goalies. 

“I just enjoy playing in the playoffs,” Neuvirth said of his ability to ramp up his play in the postseason. “Crowds been unreal in Pittsburgh and at home so it’s just so fun playing in the playoffs. I had success in the past, even in the AHL so I believe in myself that I can bring my A-game on the big stage.”

The fact is, Neuvirth — when healthy — is the only goalie on the Flyers’ roster capable of delivering that brick-wall, game-stealing performance for the team.

Playing his first full game since Feb. 16, Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5, including the ones that mattered most. 

The 30-year-old stoned the Pens’ blazing powerplay, as the penalty kill went a perfect 5 for 5. The Pens came into the game 5 for 19 with the man advantage, but the stability of Neuvirth, as well as the return of Sean Couturier, stifled the attack.

“We knew Neuvy was gonna come in and play big for us,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s a playoff goaltender.”

And he did just that in Game 5. With the extra attacker, Neuvirth robbed Sidney Crosby of a soul-crushing, game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the game to send the series back to Philly.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said after the 4-2 win. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, that was all just one game. 

But with the Flyers facing elimination, one more game is all the team can ask for.