Greetings from PPG Paints Arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators held optional morning skates in advance of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.
About 15 members of the Penguins skated. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Egveni Malkin were not among them. That's normal at this time of year, as players usually get the choice of practicing the day before a game or skating on the morning of the game.
Not that there was much doubt, but Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that he will start goaltender Matt Murray on Thursday despite Murray having given up eight goals on 58 shots in their losses in Games 3 and 4. Sullivan also said center Nick Bonino, who blocked a shot by P.K. Subban in Game 2 and missed the next two games, will be a game-time decision. The Penguins have won their last five home games and are 9-3 overall on home ice in the playoffs. The home team has won each of the first four games of the Cup Final.
Based on line rushes and who stayed out on the ice for extra work, it appeared that Predators left wing Colin Wilson will play Thursday and that P.A. Parenteau will come out of the lineup. Predators Coach Peter Laviolette has a policy of not discussing lineup changes and wouldn't say if Wilson will return after missing four games because of a lower-body injury. Wilson skated alongside Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk during the morning skate.
Both coaches were asked Thursday morning whether they believe momentum can carry over from one game to the next, though that hasn't been the case in the Final or in most of the previous rounds. Laviolette had an interesting response.
"I've said it a few times, usually desperation wins the day. If you've got a team that has momentum and a team that's got desperation, for me anyway, the scarier team is the one that's got desperation," he said. "Two-two series right now, I'm not sure where it lies. They still have home ice. Desperation should probably still fall on our side here, where we know we've got to win a game in Pittsburgh.
"We know we've got to win one road game and then a home game to boot. Right now I'm not sure that there's a momentum or a desperation. I think you're probably going to see two teams that are ready to play hockey and fight hard for one win."
The Predators would be in a good position if they can win in Pittsburgh, because Game 6 is to be played on Sunday at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators are 9-1 in the playoffs.
"We've got some confidence. We're playing great. We're scoring goals. We're playing good defense," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "The pieces are coming together, and I don't think anyone on this team isn't feeling comfortable in the way we're playing right now."
He also said it's no coincidence that the home teams have won each game so far. "It's nice to have your fans cheering you on and screaming and giving you extra energy, but at the same time, I think maybe we deserved to win one of the first two games and we felt we played good," he said. "It's not like we've been outplayed or outchanced or anything like that. We were right there and we know if we can bring the same effort and just don't have that breakdown in a three- or four-minute span when they can score a few goals, I think we're going to have a good chance."
Sullivan said he hasn't seen much momentum. "I think if you watch just the history of the playoffs here, each game tends to take on its own identity, and I believe that teams that make it this far certainly have a resilience about them that they have the ability to respond and rebound and put their best effort forward," he said. "And so this is another game tonight. It's an opportunity for us to get on the ice, play the best game that we can play and put ourselves in a position to accomplish the ultimate goal, and I think that's how our team is certainly looking at it, that this is a great challenge and it's a great opportunity and we're excited about it."