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 fueled by fast start vs. Devils

Flyers fueled by fast start vs. Devils

BOX SCORE

The Flyers had no problem getting up for a Saturday afternoon puck drop.

They jumped all over the New Jersey Devils at the Wells Fargo Center, doing all their damage in the first period en route to a 3-1 victory.

Travis Konecny, Valtteri Filppula and Ivan Provorov lit the lamp in the opening frame for a team that has often fought lackluster starts.

That was far from the case Saturday as the Flyers (22-16-8) have now won six of their last seven games (see standings). Over that span, they've outscored the opposition 28-19.

With the victory, they improved to 4-2-4 against the Metropolitan Division. Plenty more to come.

The Devils (24-13-8) entered in second place of the Metro but have had trouble against the orange and black thus far. The Flyers are 2-0-0 against New Jersey with two more games remaining in the regular-season series. It's a bit ironic the Flyers went 1-3-1 against a Devils team last season not nearly as strong, one that finished 28-40-14 with 70 points.

Hockey can be a weird game, huh?

• Shayne Gostisbehere can be so elusive with the puck, which, from a defenseman, is such a luxury for the Flyers. He exhibited that elusiveness early to jump-start the Flyers' first-period ignition. Gostisbehere took the puck from his own blue line and weaved through some Devils before finding a wide-open Konecny in the circle for a 1-0 lead at 3:29 of the opening frame.

• Speaking of Konecny, his goal and assist give him nine points in the last 10 games. In his previous 25 games, Konecny had four points. The 20-year-old is showing what he can do when playing in a prominent role: the first line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Who could have known putting a talented kid with talented players would yield positive results?

• The Flyers really got after it with a much-needed fast start. Prior to then, we hadn't seen many of those through 45 games. The Flyers entered Saturday in a four-way tie for fewest leads after the first period with eight, going 6-0-2 in those contests. They had themselves a healthy 3-0 advantage at first intermission Saturday behind a superb opening 20 minutes. The Devils had to pull starting goalie Keith Kinkaid, who was shaken up after surrendering the third marker.

• Filppula and Provorov scored the Flyers' other two first-period tallies. Michael Raffl got his stick on a bouncing pass to set up Filppula in front for his 10th of the season, his first double-digit-goal campaign since 2014-15. Meanwhile, Raffl quietly has 15 points in his last 25 games.

"We haven't been starting games how we would like," Filppula said at first intermission. "Today was a good start and it is obviously nice to get rewarded."

Provorov displayed some great resolve in front to finally finish off his goal.

The second-year blueliner also made a spectacular outlet pass in the second period that covered about three-quarters of the ice. Konecny was the beneficiary but misfired on the shot. Still, Provorov's play had fans ooh-ahhing.

• Raffl is as laid back and jovial of a player as you'll see on the Flyers' roster. He's not a fighter, but give him credit for always dropping the gloves whenever the opportunity calls for it. Devils defenseman John Moore called for it this time after Raffl inadvertently tripped Kinkaid. Raffl hung in there following a few early blows.

• The Flyers were bit undisciplined in the second period (two penalties) and missed a few opportunities offensively, but fortunately for them, it wasn't too costly thanks to such a positive first period. The Flyers permitted a power-play goal during the middle stanza and went 0 for 4 on the man advantage for the game. It didn't matter.

• Michal Neuvirth made a second consecutive start and was strong again, making 28 saves on 29 shots. In limited duty, he's 5-5-1 on the season and came in with a 2.35 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Solid stuff from Neuvirth.

• With Cory Schneider sick and Kinkaid's exit, emergency netminder Ken Appleby was forced into action and held his own. He stopped all 24 shots he faced in his NHL debut.

• It was the second NHL meeting between 2017 top-two picks Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Hischier finished with no points for the Devils in 17:04 of ice time, while Patrick played 11:37 and went scoreless. His line did good work, though.

• Rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim was scratched for the eighth time in the last nine games, while forward Taylor Leier sat for a second straight game in favor of Tyrell Goulbourne.

• Eagles defensive back Corey Graham was in the house. Sounds like Philly is ready for 6:40 p.m. Sunday.

• Things don't get easier for the Flyers, who are right back at it Sunday with a 12:30 p.m. puck drop in Washington D.C. against the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals on NBC. 

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

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USA Today Images

Panthers upset West-best Golden Knights in OT

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday night, spoiling former coach Gerard Gallant's return to Florida.

Ekblad grabbed a rebound in the high slot and fired it past Malcolm Subban to give Florida its second win in six games this month.

Aleksander Barkov scored his league-leading fifth short-handed goal of the season and had two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Panthers. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.

William Karlsson had a goal and an assist, and David Perron and James Neal also scored for Vegas. Subban finished with 22 saves (see full recap).

Pacioretty, Canadiens snap 3-game skid
WASHINGTON -- Max Pacioretty had two goals and an assist to help the Montreal Canadiens break a three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Paul Byron also scored for the Canadiens. Antii Niemi, playing in place of Carey Price, who had been in goal for eight consecutive games, stopped 24 shots.

John Carlson and Lars Eller scored for the Capitals, and Philipp Grubauer finished with 22 saves.

Pacioretty, who has six goals in the last six games, scored Montreal's first goal at 7:08 in the second period and added an empty-netter with 1:18 remaining in the game (see full recap).

Ducks get upper hand on rival Kings again
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ryan Kesler deflected home Francois Beauchemin's shot for the tiebreaking goal with 7:39 to play and the Anaheim Ducks won their second Freeway Faceoff in seven days, beating the struggling Los Angeles Kings 2-1 Friday night.

Adam Henrique scored early in the third period and John Gibson made 23 saves for the Ducks, who have won six of nine overall.

Rookie Alex Iafallo evened it for Los Angeles moments after Henrique's goal, but Kesler's long deflection sent the puck bouncing past Jonathan Quick. Anaheim then hung on in a frantic final minute to even the archrivals' season series at two games apiece.

Quick stopped 29 shots in the Kings' sixth consecutive loss, extending their longest skid of the season (see full recap).