Flyers

Stanley Cup Final: Predators leaning on Pekka Rinne to force Penguins back to Pittsburgh

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Stanley Cup Final: Predators leaning on Pekka Rinne to force Penguins back to Pittsburgh

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Pekka Rinne is a friendly, polite man off the ice. Slipping the puck past the Nashville Predators goaltender is one of the few ways to anger the 6-foot-5 Finn.

Pucks bouncing past him on the NHL's biggest stage infuriate him. Rinne chopped his stick against a goalpost not once, but twice after giving up a fifth and final goal a year ago when Nashville was ousted from the playoffs.

That was just Game 7 in the second round.

Now Rinne goes into the biggest game of his career Sunday night needing yet another home victory to force both the defending champs and the Stanley Cup Final to a deciding seventh game back in Pittsburgh. And Rinne spent the past 40 minutes stewing on the bench as the Penguins finished off a 6-0 rout Thursday night in easily Nashville's worst playoff loss.

"You have those thoughts that why (is) the puck getting deflected in off our guys or something like that," Rinne said Saturday. "You try to work so hard that the luck is also on your side. When bounces not going your way, sometimes you question, have second thoughts in your head, but that's life."

The goalie so competitive he doesn't like teammates scoring on him in practice is back in Nashville where he's been nearly unbeatable over the past two postseasons at 13-1.

Rinne has a 9-1 record this spring with a 1.44 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in Nashville. He's allowed two or fewer goals in eight of those 10 games and tied Antti Niemi with his 36th playoff win for the most in NHL history by a Finnish-born goaltender.

Yet the goalie and the Predators stand between Pittsburgh and a big chunk of history.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons in nearly two decades since Detroit repeated in 1997 and 1998. One more win gives the Penguins the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup, tying them with Edmonton for sixth all-time.

All four of Pittsburgh's Stanley Cups have been clinched on the road with Chicago the last team to win the Cup on home ice back in 2015.

"Opportunities like this, they don't come around often, so you want to make the most of them," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said.

The Predators haven't scored a goal in 63 minutes, 23 seconds since Filip Forsberg's empty-net goal in Game 4. So Rinne will need to be at his best to give Nashville a chance at its first Game 7 and Pittsburgh's third this postseason.

Rinne understands coach Peter Laviolette was trying to wake up the Predators by pulling the veteran after allowing three goals on nine shots in the first 20 minutes of Game 5. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel all put up at least two points each in that game.

Yet there's been no question that Rinne, who has never won a start in Pittsburgh, will be in net Sunday night.

"Right now our backs are against the wall, and this is our opportunity and I think you try to do anything in your power and prepare the best you can for this one," Rinne said.

The Predators know exactly what they need to do better against Pittsburgh. Part of that is being better in front of Rinne.

"We made mistakes in front of him," Laviolette said. "So I know there's things that we can do that can support our goaltender better."

Nashville may be without defenseman Ryan Ellis, who didn't finish Thursday night's loss. Ellis was among several Predators who did not take part in an optional practice Saturday. Ellis plays with Roman Josi on Nashville's top defensive pair and is tied for third with 13 points this postseason.

The Penguins skated in Pittsburgh before flying to Nashville. Center Nick Bonino, who has missed three straight games with an injured left foot, did not practice for the Pens.

Pittsburgh couldn't close out Columbus, Washington or Ottawa the first chance the Penguins had in each of their previous three playoff series. Coach Mike Sullivan thinks his Penguins are playing better, harder and smarter over the past two games.

"When these guys play a committed, inspired game the way they do and they execute, then their talent and their instincts are going to take over," Sullivan said. "And when they do that, they're hard to defend."

Having the Stanley Cup in Bridgestone Arena gives the Predators plenty of motivation as well in the first game they've faced elimination this postseason. Nashville went 3-1 in such games last year.

"Our motivation is the Cup," Nashville captain Mike Fisher said. "We want to win it."

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

3 reasons why Flyers shut down 'best player in the world' Connor McDavid

BOX SCORE

A stat line of 0 goals, 0 assists and 0 points has never looked so good.

That's how Connor McDavid will remember his 22:03 of ice time Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

In another tight-checking defensive battle, it was Wayne Simmonds who scored the game-winner with 2:15 remaining in the third period to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory over the Oilers (see observations).

"Pretty big emphasis," Simmonds said of McDavid. "He's probably the best player in the world right now, so you know, we just didn't want him getting the puck in full flight.

"We just wanted to keep him on the outside and kind of limit the touches he was getting."

Aside from the broken collarbone game during his rookie season, when he was forced to leave in the second period, this marked the first time the Flyers held the 20-year-old superstar without a single point.

Prior to Saturday, McDavid had registered six points against the Flyers with at least one point in three straight games.

So, how did the orange and black bottle up the Art Ross Trophy winner — the only NHL player to top 100 points last season?

1. Deploy a multitude of forward lines and defensive pairings
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol started the game matching McDavid's line with Scott Laughton's line. In the final two periods, the task of slowing down McDavid — for the most part — was left to Sean Couturier and the Flyers' top line.

McDavid had five extended shifts of 1:30 or longer, requiring the Flyers to use a combination of lines and bodies against McDavid. Last year, McDavid may have capitalized against a slower Flyers team but this season, there is more balance across the four lines.

"It's real important," Hakstol said. "And it's not just the extended shifts. He's got an ability to finish a long shift, take one off and come right back, and that can be challenging."

2. Ensure Ivan Provorov was on the ice
After the Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg pairing handled some of the first-period shifts against McDavid, it was Provorov who primarily handled those duties in the final 40 minutes. Paired mostly with Andrew MacDonald, Provorov also saw ice time with Hagg, Radko Gudas and even Gostisbehere in the third period.

Fronted by Provorov, McDavid failed to register a single shot on Brian Elliott in the third period. Not surprisingly, Provorov played a season-high 25:54.

"His skating ability and his positioning on the ice is so good he's able to slow guys down to kind of put him on his back, just kind of angle them into parts of the ice they don't want to go into," MacDonald said. "It makes it a lot easier when you're playing with a guy who's capable of doing that so well and covering so much ground. It's great to see and he just keeps getting better."

3. Flyers took away his world-class speed
McDavid may be the fastest player in the world with the puck on his stick in the open ice. In fact, McDavid's glide has more speed to it than most players' stride. If you didn't know that prior to the Flyers-Oilers game, you certainly didn't walk away with the belief that McDavid possesses the acceleration of an Italian-engineered sports car. There wasn't one time Saturday you could recall McDavid flying into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick.

"You can't let him get speed because if he does, he's gone," Laughton said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Take away his speed early, so he can't get that puck and take it away down low too. I thought we did a good job."

For Hakstol and Co., bottle up this game plan for the future. It will come in handy when the Flyers take on the Oilers on Dec. 6 in Edmonton.

The Guy
Guy Lanzi has been the Flyers' oral surgeon since 1993. In that time, Lanzi has pulled, repaired or replaced hundreds of chiclets and Friday afternoon was no different.

Simmonds sat in Lanzi's dentist chair for nearly four hours to have some extensive dental work after taking a puck to the mouth while sitting on the bench Thursday against the Predators.

"No surgery — just a lot of work," Simmonds said Saturday. "I was in the doctor's office for a while there. Couple of root canals, couple of pulled teeth replaced, couple teeth bridged. Work is not done yet. I got to go back soon."

Because of that, Simmonds was forced to wear the protective face guard to ensure a puck or stick doesn't do any more damage.

“I can't be getting hit in the mouth again or the rest of my teeth are going to fall out,” Simmonds said.

The reward for Simmonds' mouth-numbing procedure was his fist-pumping, crowd-roaring game-winner and his team-leading sixth goal and fourth game-winner of the season.

“I don’t know how many people would want to go through that and then come back and play a hockey game," Hakstol said, "but he did it, and he scored the game-winner.”

“I think just getting two points satisfies me," Simmonds said. "I’m in a lot better spirits today.”

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

Flyers-Oilers observations: Red-hot Wayne Simmonds plays hero in win

BOX SCORE

For the second straight game, the Flyers were forced to get defensive, and this time, they found a way to come out on top Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

Wayne Simmonds produced the game-winner after taking a pass from Valtteri Filppula and snapping it past Cam Talbot with 2:15 remaining in the third period.

It was a tight-checking game that played out similar to what we saw Thursday against the Predators, as the Flyers held the Oilers to 24 shots on net. Connor McDavid registered four shots on net but wasn’t much of a factor offensively.

• The Flyers jumped on the board first with the help of their first power play when Shayne Gostisbehere’s blast from the point was deflected out front by Wayne Simmonds right to Claude Giroux, who corralled the loose puck and punched it into a wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season. 

Following an 0 for 5 effort against Nashville, the Flyers needed to capitalize on the man advantage chances.  

“We just have a lot of different looks this year,” Gostisbehere said to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Chris Therien during the first intermission. “We have so many plays out there. It’s harder for other teams to prepare for us. We’re getting pucks to the net and our guys are doing what they're supposed to do.”

• Former Phantom Patrick Maroon finally got the Oilers on the board with 4:23 remaining in the second period when he outmuscled rookie Nolan Patrick along the corner boards, coming away with the puck and making a move past Ivan Provorov, before putting a shot between Brian Elliott’s pads. 

Patrick appeared to have been distracted by a broken stick along the boards that made him hesitate with the puck. The Flyers' rookie center could have elevated the puck with his backhand, but by holding onto to it for a split second too long, he allowed Maroon to come up with the takeaway.

• The Flyers got careless defensively in the opening 10 minutes of the second period as defensive breakdowns led to some quality scoring chances for the Oilers.

• The Flyers did a solid job of containing last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner McDavid, primarily deploying Scott Laughton’s line along with the Sean Couturier line sometimes during the same shift. McDavid had some extended shifts — three even-strength shifts over 1:30 — requiring the Flyers to use a multitude of forwards and defense pairs.

• McDavid left the game briefly in the first period and returned midway through.

• Jori Lehtera produced his best scoring chance of the season when he took Radko Gudas’ outlet pass and attempted to squeeze through a pair of defenders. The plodding Lehtera was unable to gain enough speed for an uncontested shot, but with his strong forearms and hands, he was able to draw a slashing penalty and still put a shot on net. 

• Last season, Giroux didn’t score his fifth goal until Nov. 29th. 

• Both Taylor Leier and Jordan Weal missed Saturday’s game with upper-body injuries. According to general manager Ron Hextall, both forwards are day-to-day. 

• Referee Ian Walsh was honored prior to the game for officiating his 1,000th career game. Flyers captain Claude Giroux presented Walsh with a framed autographed jersey signed by the team with the No. 1,000 on the back.

Lines, pairings and scratches
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jori Lehtera-Valterri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Dale Weise-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hägg
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jordan Weal, Taylor Leier and Brandon Manning