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."

Even the bounces are going Flyers' way

Even the bounces are going Flyers' way

BOX SCORE 

OTTAWA, Ontario — An early goal, a beautiful goal, a lucky goal and a disallowed goal. That’s all you need to know about the Flyers' 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday afternoon (see observations). Just for fun though, here’s a little more detail.

Ivan Provorov scored 28 seconds into the game to get the Flyers going in what eventually turned out to be their fifth consecutive win and 11th consecutive game with a point.

With the score 2-1 in favor of the Flyers late in the second period, Zack Smith looked like he had tied the game for the Senators, but coach Dave Hakstol issued a challenge and the goal was overturned on an offside that wasn’t originally called.

Well done.

In the third period, Claude Giroux scored a beautiful breakaway goal when he contorted his body to his backhand than back to his forehand before depositing the puck behind Craig Anderson in the Ottawa goal, who was left in a twisted heap in the corner of the crease.

That goal made it 3-1 four minutes into the third and after Nolan Patrick made it 4-1, Brandon Manning dumped a shot in just passed the red line, but the puck hit a stanchion in the glass and redirected into the net. Anderson had a great view of the goal from behind the net where he was standing after he went out to play the puck.

“We’re getting the bounces,” Giroux said.

“Brandon Manning’s goal, you can’t draw that up, but we’re definitely going to take it.”

Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg also scored for the Flyers, who have now slipped into a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division, pending the outcome of the Penguins' game Saturday night.

Considering they were last in the division about two months ago, that’s a pretty nice turnaround.

“I think it was always in the room and that we just had to believe in ourselves and know that we were capable of doing good things,” said forward Travis Konecny.

“We just had to stick with it and eventually things were going to pay off for us.”

That they have, and although Saturday might not have been their best effort, it was good enough. The Senators got two late goals from Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to make the final count a little more respectable. Mike Hoffman also scored.

“We’re playing some good hockey right now and everyone has bought into what we want to do here,” Giroux said, adding the overturned goal was big.

“Anytime you get a goal like that turned (over), it’s a relief and a walk-up call at the same time,”

Nolan Patrick scored just his ninth goal in his rookie season, but he has six in his last 13, including goals in four straight.

“I think I’ve been playing good in the last 15 to 20 games and not just because of the goals; I think I’ve improved on both ends of the puck,” Patrick said.

He was standing at the top of the crease when Manning’s pass/shot hit his stick and redirected in past Anderson.

On a final note and not to be lost in all the offense, Petr Mrazek made 25 saves and has won both starts with the Flyers since being acquired last week from the Detroit Red Wings.

All is good on Broad Street.

Losing is still foreign to the Flyers

Losing is still foreign to the Flyers

BOX SCORE

OTTAWA, Ontario — It would seem as if the Flyers are for real.

Since halting a 10-game losing streak Dec. 4 against the Calgary Flames, the Flyers have posted a 25-8-3 record, including Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

They’ve also gone from last in the Metropolitan Division to a tie for first.

Saturday, Brandon Manning led the offense with a goal and two assists while Claude Giroux contributed a goal and a helper.

Robert Hagg and Ivan Provorov also scored for the Flyers (33-19-10), who have now won five straight.

The Senators got goals from Mike Hoffman, Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene a day after shipping center Derrick Brassard off to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

•It took 20 seconds longer than Tim Kerr, but Ivan Provorov’s goal 28 ticks into Saturday’s game was a good start for the Flyers. Kerr scored eight seconds into a game against the Edmonton Oilers way back in 1989 to set the standard for the fastest Flyers’ goal to start a game. Provorov scored 20 seconds faster than Giroux did on Nov. 28, 2017, which was the previous quickest 1-0 lead for the Flyers this season.

•Challenge accepted. Flyers coach Dave Hakstol challenged a goal 12 minutes into the second period, claiming the Senators were offside. The coach was bang on, the goal was overturned and the Flyers maintained the 2-1 lead.

•Nolan Patrick had scored in his three previous games and through the first 40 minutes Saturday, the Flyers' rookie was unable to make it a quartet. It wasn’t for lack of trying though, as Patrick had five shots on goal through two periods. The goal finally came for Patrick in the third, however, with a tip in front off a Manning shot. He finished with nine shots.

•Petr Mrazek only needed to make 19 saves Thursday to get a win in his first game with the Flyers. He made 19 through the first 39 minutes Saturday. He also got help from his right post when Dzingel rang one off it midway through the second.

•Despite two early goals on shots he should have stopped, Craig Anderson picked up his game through the final two-plus periods, making some big saves to keep the Senators alive and kicking.

•The Flyers’ third and fifth goals were a perfect example of the Beauty and the Beast. Giroux scored a beauty on a breakaway when he turned his body and went to his backhand before turning the other way to his forehand and placing the puck into an empty net behind an undressed Anderson. Manning scored when his dump-in hit the station in the glass and went in, as Anderson stood behind the net and watched after going to play the dump in.

•The Flyers will be silent on the ice until after the trade deadline as they don’t play until they meet the Canadiens in Montreal Monday night. Off the ice, we’ll see.