Flyers

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

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AP Images

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."

Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

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USA Today Images

Colin McDonald staying in Flyers' system, re-signs with Phantoms

Every team wants an insurance policy with NHL experience at the AHL level.

The Flyers will have that again in Colin McDonald.

Lehigh Valley signed the right winger to an AHL contract Tuesday afternoon, bringing back the captain for a fourth season with the Phantoms. The team also signed defenseman David Drake, 23, who played seven games for Lehigh Valley last season.

McDonald, who turns 34 years old in September, never reached the Flyers in 2017-18, but played eight games for the big club over the prior two seasons, scoring a pair of goals. He actually appeared in three playoff games during 2015-16 because of injuries to Sean Couturier and Scott Laughton, and a suspension for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

In total, McDonald, known for making an impact with his size (6-2/219) and physicality, has 148 games of NHL experience to go with 11 postseason contests.

Last season with the Phantoms, McDonald posted 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 56 regular-season games, before helping Lehigh Valley advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, where it was swept by the Toronto Marlies.

In 2016-17, McDonald had 25 goals and 44 points in 72 regular-season games.

Not only is McDonald a solid safety net for the Flyers, but he also provides a good example for the organization's prospects developing with the Phantoms. He's a likeable, mature pro and has played 628 AHL games over his career, so the franchise's youngsters will be able to rely on him for another season in 2018-19.

More on the Flyers

2018 NHL draft profile: Oliver Wahlstrom, a lethal goal-scorer Flyers should trade up for

2018 NHL draft profile: Oliver Wahlstrom, a lethal goal-scorer Flyers should trade up for

Over the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how they would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right winger
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 208
Shoots: Right
Team: USA U-18 (NTDP)

Scouting report
You might recall Wahlstrom from this viral video eight years ago when he was 9 years old. Yes, Wahlstrom has been on the map for some time now and the right winger is expected to be a high first-round draft pick. Wahlstrom starred in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, registering 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games while adding 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games in the USHL in 2017-18. He averaged a goal per game for Team USA during the 2018 IIHF World U18 Championship, where the U.S. took silver. He was part of the 2017 gold-medal winning team during the U-18 world juniors when he had four goals and seven points in five games. Owns a lethal shot, as evidenced below against Russia in the Five Nations Tournament, video courtesy of USA Hockey.

Wahlstrom is a scoring threat every time he touches the puck and does some wizard-like stuff with it. He’s a big body and doesn’t shy away from the dirty areas, either. At the combine, he measured in bigger than what the NTDP listed him. He’s committed to play at the University of Harvard, though he told The Boston Globe his plan is to play just one year before turning pro.

Fit with Flyers
Wahlstrom qualifies as a trade-up option for the Flyers as it would be a minor miracle if he falls to No. 14. If he is available at 14, then there might be question marks that we can’t see on the surface. He won’t be there at 14, though, so if the Flyers want him, they’d have to move up.

With two first-round picks, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall certainly has the ammo to do so; it just depends on how far he’d have to jump to select Wahlstrom. Some believe he should go in the top five, ahead of Brady Tkachuk, and others see him going between Nos. 8-12.

Either way, Wahlstrom is a prospect that the Flyers could greatly benefit from drafting. He’s a pure sniper and we’ve heard that lately that the Flyers need one of them. He would certainly please the few fans who scream "SHOOT" all the time at the Wells Fargo Center. Fit wise, Wahlstrom would be as close to ideal as you can get. It’s just a matter of if the Flyers fall in love with him and can move up high enough in order to draft him.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

Profile: Jack McBain

Profile: Rasmus Sandin

• Profile: Ryan Merkley

• Profile: Dominik Bokk

• Profile: Noah Dobson

• Profile: Rasmus Kupari

• Profile: Martin Kaut

• Profile: Grigori Denisenko

• Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

• Profile: Serron Noel

• Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtso