2017 Stanley Cup Final notebook: Script has flipped for Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins

By Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange  |  June 8, 2017 at 2:19 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- The script has flipped when it comes to goaltenders Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

As the two clubs get set for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, social media and some mainstream media members have cast a long look at Murray, who allowed eight goals on 58 shots in losses in Games 3 and 4 in Nashville.

"I thought I was OK in Game 3, obviously not great. I thought I was pretty good in Game 4," Murray said Wednesday.

There is at least some sentiment for Pittsburgh to go back to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who started the first 15 playoff games following an injury to Murray in the warmup before the Penguins' postseason opener.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan isn't talking about any lineup changes. Neither was Murray when asked if he knew who will start Thursday.

"Even if I did, I would not tell you," he said.

A change seems unlikely, and Fleury begged off of any controversy.

"It's out of my hands," he said. "What I've got to do is try to stay ready in practices if they need me."

Murray downplayed some criticism that he has been vulnerable to shots on his glove side.

"I work on everything. I work on my entire game," he said. "If they want to shoot glove (side), then I say go ahead and shoot glove."

It was just last week when Rinne was facing some similar heat after allowing eight goals on 36 shots in Games 1 and 2 and getting pulled in Game 2.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette similarly would not commit to starting Rinne in Game 3, but he later admitted he never really considered a switch.

After two Predators wins in a row to tie the series, Rinne's first experience in the Cup Final has become a lot more pleasant.

"Amazing," he said. "Obviously, you don't want to look back yet. Been playing for a long time, never had this opportunity. It means everything to me right now. Just living my dream right now."

PHIL KESSEL STRUGGLING

Pittsburgh sniper Phil Kessel is tied for third this postseason with 20 points, but he has just one point, an assist, this series and has gone six games without a goal.

Center and oft-linemate Evgeni Malkin boldly predicted Kessel will break that slump Thursday.

"He'll score. It's his time to score," Malkin said. "He's a great player. He likes to play in tough situations. Now it's time for leadership to show in big games. Time to score. We play at home. It's our building, our emotion."

Kessel had eight shot attempts in Game 4 -- two that were stopped by Rinne, three that were blocked and three that missed the net.

"I missed the net a couple times where I probably should have hit the net," Kessel said.

Not to worry, Malkin said.

"I feel it," Malkin said. "He has waited a long time. He hasn't scored in a long time. Now it's time. Last game I think he showed his best game in this series. He plays so hard. I believe. I feel it."

SULLIVAN GETS POINTERS FROM LEMIEUX

Sullivan has a booming voice and mostly is all business during press conferences. He broke that demeanor Wednesday when a local radio reporter got his tongue tied and inadvertently called Sullivan "Mario."

Sullivan smiled and said being referred to as Penguins co-owner and Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux "brightened my week."

He also took the opportunity to talk about getting pointers from Lemieux, who led the Penguins to two Cups as a player. Lemieux has been a regular at playoff games and around the Pittsburgh locker room afterward.

"He comes down, shares his insight. We certainly value what he brings," Sullivan said. "Obviously, he thinks the game on a certain level that most people don't think the game. We value his input.

"Mario is great because he does entrust us with making the right decisions. He does empower us to do our jobs, which we're very appreciative of. But we certainly value his insights and his observations."

LAVIOLETTE LAID BACK

Laviolette is probably even more stoic than Sullivan, especially at the daily news conferences during the Final, but he said he does crack that veneer occasionally.

"I think we have fun. I mean, we do laugh a little bit," Laviolette admitted.

"But it is business, too. There's a lot of work that has to be done on a daily basis for everybody, not just coaches or not just players. There's the organization, the guys on video, the equipment, the trainers. It is business. I don't think you get to this point if you aren't (about the) business.

"A lot of times what you see up here, you're asking direct questions about the game or about a situation. I do think it is a lot of business. But, believe it or not, I do smile once in a while."

INJURY UPDATES

Pittsburgh's transition game has missed top defenseman Kris Letang. He skated in a track suit before practice Wednesday, but that is just part of his four- to-six-month recovery plan after he had disc surgery on his neck in mid-April.

On Tuesday, Sullivan shot down reports that Letang had an outside chance to return in this series.

Pittsburgh could still be without center Nick Bonino (left foot/ankle) for the third straight game. He watched practice.

Nashville center Colin Wilson, who has an undisclosed injury, could make his Final debut, as there is a chance to be cleared to play.

"He can get down low and hang onto pucks and really be physical offensively," Predators winger Austin Watson said. "Going with our game plan, we'd like to get down there, disrupt their defense, play with the puck and possession -- he's great at that. He can definitely be a helpful guy for us."

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