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Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins smash Predators to move 1 win from title

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The night started with a catfish throw.

It ended with haymaker after haymaker -- both literal and proverbial -- from Sidney Crosby and the rest of the resilient Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defending champions provided an emphatic reminder of why they're on the cusp of history with a 6-0 demolition of the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 3-2 lead. Pittsburgh will have a chance to become the first franchise to win back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1998 when the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday night.

"Still a lot of work to be done but the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that's important," Crosby said after collecting three assists. "We know we're going to be facing a desperate team."

One that can't get back to the creature comforts of Smashville fast enough. The Penguins chased Pekka Rinne with a three-goal barrage in the first period and kept it going against backup Juuse Saros to push the Predators to the brink of elimination for the first time during their run to the final.

"I don't know if anybody shakes off a game like that that quickly," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "Nobody feels good leaving the building playing the way we did."

All the good mojo Rinne generated while helping Nashville rally to tie the series at 2 vanished in a span of 20 minutes. Justin Schultz beat Rinne just 91 seconds in , Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin followed before the first period horn sounded, continuing Rinne's baffling inability to play effectively in Pittsburgh during the series. Rinne has stopped just 34 of the 45 pucks that have come his way during seven forgettable periods at PPG Paints Arena.

"It was just one of those games where they were going and we were trying to find it and didn't really get it going at any point," Rinne said.

Not that the Penguins gave them much of a chance.

Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel -- just as linemate Malkin predicted -- and 35-year-old playoff newbie Ron Hainsey also scored for Pittsburgh. It was Crosby who sent the message -- with his vision, his creativity and, oddly, his fists.

The two-time MVP's eventful night included becoming the franchise's all-time leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final, a two-minute roughing penalty for trying to dribble Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban's head on the ice near the end of the first period and what he said was an inadvertent flip of a water bottle onto the ice during play.

"I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has and he's not taking anything for granted," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

And apparently not taking any more stuff from Subban either. The two stars became tangled up behind the Nashville goal late in the first with Crosby on top. He attempted to extract himself but couldn't, then unleashed a torrent of punches at Subban's head.

"He was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot," Crosby said. "I don't know what he was trying to do. ... I don't know what he was trying to do to my ankle. I was in some kind of lock there."

Subban, who claimed Crosby was complaining about Subban's breath during a Game 3 run-in, just kind of sat there and took it. The exchange ended with both players heading to the dressing room with minor penalties. They watched on TV as Malkin's wrist shot with 10 seconds left in the first gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 edge it never came close to giving up.

"That is, hands down, the best game that we've played in this series to this point," Sullivan said.

Saros hardly fared any better. Sheary took a pretty feed from Crosby and sent it by Saros 1:19 into the second to push Pittsburgh's lead to four. Kessel ended a six-game goal drought 8:02 into the second. The score had been predicted by Malkin and it came just seconds after Crosby threw a water bottle onto the ice as the play went by Pittsburgh's bench, a move he told referees was unintentional.

When Hainsey, who waited 907 regular-season games before reaching the playoffs for the first time this season, tapped in a pass from Malkin to make it 6-0, the stage was set for the Penguins to return to familiar territory.

The franchise has won all four of its Cups on the road. A shot at a fifth awaits Sunday, though it'll hardly be easy.

"It's a good game but it's still not done," Malkin said. "We still need one more game, one more win."

The Predators are 9-1 at home in the playoffs, a place they will need to be a haven once again if they want to extend their improbable Cup run back to Pittsburgh.

"The real hockey starts now," Subban said. "You're in the Cup final, this is what it's all about. It's about going back and forth."

Notes
Matt Murray finished with 24 saves. ... Crosby now has 20 career points in the Stanley Cup Final, a new franchise record and one more than team owner Mario Lemieux. ... Crosby also moved into a tie with Denis Potvin for 19th on the all-time career playoff scoring list. ... The team that has won Game 5 in a 2-2 series has gone on to win the Cup 71 percent (17 of 24) of the time since 1939. ... The teams combined for 100 penalty minutes (58 for Nashville, 42 for Pittsburgh). ... Guentzel's assist moved him into a tie with Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for the most playoff points by a rookie in NHL history (21). ... Penguins F Nick Bonino missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Nashville F Colin Wilson made his series debut after missing the first four games with an undisclosed injury. Wilson skated on the fourth line with Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk.

Flyers Talk podcast: What if Flyers jumped right into NHL playoffs?

Flyers Talk podcast: What if Flyers jumped right into NHL playoffs?

On the latest Flyers Talk podcast, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Katie Emmer, Brooke Destra and Jordan Hall discuss the potential of the NHL playoffs and the team's position.

From the possible matchup and how the Flyers are adjusting, let's dive in:

1:20 — Get to know Destra's background!

3:15 — Will the NHL jump right into the playoffs?

9:50 — Let's look at the Flyers' potential matchup

15:25 — Should the Flyers worry about any scenario?

18:30 — Get to know Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison

25:20 — Fletcher on the Flyers' adjustments during this time

32:20 — Give Chuck Fletcher and Alain Vigneault credit; excitement ahead

37:25 — OK, let's talk some shows!

40:30 — Meet the president of the Gritty committee

Subscribe and rate Flyers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

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Amid coronavirus outbreak, Chuck Fletcher, Flyers push forward in 'different times'

Amid coronavirus outbreak, Chuck Fletcher, Flyers push forward in 'different times'

It was Monday morning, a day after the Flyers were originally scheduled for a huge showdown against the Penguins in Game 79 of their 2019-20 season.

The matchup at the Wells Fargo Center likely would have held considerable playoff implications and a rowdy atmosphere.

Chuck Fletcher was talking about neither as he began a conference call.

"I want to acknowledge the obvious that we’re in different times right now," the Flyers' general manager said.

Indeed.

The Wells Fargo Center was quiet Sunday afternoon. Over 20 days and counting, the Flyers have not played a game. With the NHL out of commission since March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Flyers' 2019-20 fate is completely up in the air.

When Fletcher said "different times," he meant much more than the simplicity of games being played, won and lost.

I just want to certainly mention that our entire organization, and certainly my family and I, we thank all the people working on the front lines of this pandemic — the doctors, nurses, hospital workers, our first responders and everyone working hard to keep all of our essential services operating for the benefit of all of us. I just wanted to mention that before we started talking about the small piece of the world that I work in which is ice hockey.

As the coronavirus outbreak has had a global impact, the Flyers are like many organizations — they must prepare to move forward as best they can in ways that are allowable.

In regards to the current roster and preparing for the NHL's potential resumption, the players are tasked with staying ready on their own time. These are professional athletes and the Flyers trust them.

“With respect to our players, we haven’t given them any sort of specific direction," Fletcher said. "Most of them have returned to their offseason homes. A lot of them have the ability to work out there. I don’t think anybody is skating obviously at this point, but I think guys are doing the best they can to say in shape and they’re all hopeful at some point in time, we’ll get to a better place in this world and we’ll be able to come back and play hockey."

When the Flyers returned to Philadelphia on March 13 following the postponement of their game the day prior against the Lightning in Tampa Bay, Florida, the focus was on the health and safety of everyone. During the stoppage, Fletcher has communicated with many players, including the Flyers' NHLPA representative James van Riemsdyk and team captain Claude Giroux.

“I think all of us are concerned about everyone’s health and wellbeing and trying to take all the precautions we can," Fletcher said. "I’m not aware of anybody that we had to take any particular precautions with other than once we got back from Tampa Bay, everybody has tried to heed the advice of the NHL, self isolate and do what we can to keep ourselves and our families safe and be smart members of the community and try to stay out of everyone’s way. Everyone is doing the best they can to self isolate and be home with their families.

"At this point, to me the biggest thing is just making sure everybody is safe and their families are safe. If there is anything they need from us to get through this time and stage of where we’re all at, we want to help out any way we can."

On the hockey operations and upper management side, communication remains vital. 

Fletcher is in daily contact with assistant general managers Brent Flahr and Barry Hanrahan. With 2019-20 at a standstill, the Flyers continue to strategize for this summer's NHL draft and offseason in preparation for 2020-21.

The Flyers have seven picks in the draft and 10 players slated to hit free agency — Brian Elliott (unrestricted), Justin Braun (unrestricted), Tyler Pitlick (unrestricted), Derek Grant (unrestricted), Nate Thompson (unrestricted), Robert Hagg (restricted), Philippe Myers (restricted), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (restricted), Nolan Patrick (restricted) and Oskar Lindblom (restricted).

Fletcher said the Flyers have not started negotiations with the team's UFAs or RFAs, as it's still early and much can change prior to the offseason.

"Certainly, whether we start the negotiations or just prepare for them," Fletcher said, "typically this time of the year is when you’re building your files for the summer negotiations and this year isn’t any different.

“I speak to Brent and Barry every day, we have a group text that we keep pretty active in terms of different things that each of us may be doing.

"Brent is working, first and foremost, with our scouting staff, our amateur scouts and they’re working hard on getting their lists ready for the draft, watching video, reviewing reports, having discussions on players — doing things they would typically do at this time of the year with the obvious exception that we’re not able to watch games live right now.

“Barry is working on contracts and cap-related issues going forward. We’ve been able to sign a couple of our unsigned draft choices Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison recently. Barry has been on the forefront of those conversations.”

As for head coach Alain Vigneault, you can bet he's staying busy.

“He had been working on his golf swing for a while," Fletcher said. "But right now, I think he’s like the rest of us, going through notes and trying to stay safe.

"I speak to A.V. every week, just once a week. I’ve reached out to quite a few of the coaching staff and scouting staff and support staff, try to stay in regular contact with them whether it’s by a phone call or a text or an email.

"We’re all trying to stay in touch and do what we can, but for obvious reasons, a lot of our business has been shut down right now. Most of the things we can focus on are matters going forward, whether that’s the draft or signing some of our players and planning some things in the future.”

Fletcher and the Flyers, of course, would love to finish off their 2019-20 work. If they get a chance to, it would be doubly special.

“When you have time, use it," Fletcher said of the NHL's current spot. "To me, there’s no sense in making any decisions until you have to make them. If we’re able to come back and play, that means that the world is in a much better spot than what it is right now, and I think that would be a tremendous sign."

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