Sidney Crosby was not credited with a shot on goal during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, but on Sunday he took some verbal shots at Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, with whom he exchanged unpleasantries near the end of the Predators' 5-1 victory on Saturday at a rollicking, rocking Bridgestone Arena.
Subban claimed he was in Crosby's face so much during the game that cut the Penguins' series lead to 2-1 that, "he went on to tell me that my breath smelled bad," a gaffe Subban insisted was impossible because he had used mouthwash. It was a funny moment that drew laughs when he said it on TV and repeated it later, but Crosby said it never happened.
"He made that up. I didn't say that," the Penguins' captain said. "He likes the attention and things like that. If he wants to make stuff up what can I do?"
Crosby followed with a remark that was subtle but pointed, saying he hadn't noticed Subban trying to stifle him on the ice. It was impossible to miss Subban looming over him, but Crosby wouldn't give him any satisfaction. "I haven't seen P.K. much," Crosby said. "We haven't been in their zone probably enough, but I don't feel like every time I'm out there P.K.'s out there."
Zing. Yes, we have a series heading into Game 4 on Monday in Nashville, whose citizens have embraced the Predators' unlikely Cup Final journey with energy, enthusiasm and a seemingly unlimited capacity for tossing catfish, a Southern twist on Detroit's octopus-throwing tradition.
With exhalations sour or sweet, the Predators breathed new life into the Final by overcoming an early goal Saturday by Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel. In improving to 8-1 at home during the playoffs the Predators spread out their scoring — five players each had a goal and 19 have scored at least once during the playoffs — and came up with a solid defensive effort in front of goaltender Pekka Rinne. They had abandoned him to face too many outnumbered rushes in the first two games but were more diligent in Game 3. The Predators' mobility and skill on defense give them an edge over the depleted Penguins and could make the difference from here on.
"It was a very important win," Rinne said. "We as a group feel like we've played three pretty strong games now. In Pittsburgh we lost those two games and it can be frustrating at times when you feel like your team is playing well, so I feel that was a big win for us confidence-wise, just knowing that we are doing the right things on the ice."
They've done a lot of good things in limiting the skillful Penguins to one power-play goal in 13 tries. "They come in move the puck around. Our guys have done a great job of getting in shot lanes, blocking shots," standout Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. "I think your best penalty killer is always your goalie, and Pekka has done a tremendous job."
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said his breakdown of the game showed Evgeni Malkin — also not credited with a shot on goal in Game 3 — and Crosby had many opportunities to shoot but passed up those chances. Hockey values selflessness, but being selfish enough to shoot at the right moment is no sin. "As a coach, it's always a fine line because you don't want to interfere with their instincts," Sullivan said. "If they see plays that they think are there to be made, then they're going to try to make them. I think what we try to do with them is just try to get them to think in terms of having that shot-first mind-set. I think when they do that, everything else will open up for them."
They've also got to get their shots through the maze of bodies around the net. Crosby, who had an assist Saturday, was credited with one shot that was blocked and two that missed the net. Malkin had no attempts that were blocked or missed the net. "I think it's kind of just a matter of winning those battles, too, and finding ways to get to the net," Crosby said. "You've got to hit the net. So let's start there."
The Penguins are hoping center Nick Bonino, who missed Game 3 after blocking a Subban shot with his foot in Game 2, will return Monday. Bonino skated Sunday but acknowledged the experience "is not fun," and said he won't play if he can't help the team.
Subban had promised the Predators would win Game 3 but made no predictions about Monday's game. It might be too big an occasion for even him to make light of. "Everybody's got to win their battle and win the game within the game and look across the ice and you've got to beat the guy across the ice from you. That's just really what it is," he said. "The team can win more of those battles should be the team that comes out on top."