Greetings from Nashville, where heavy rain that fell Monday morning was expected to cut down the size of the crowds outside Bridgestone Arena for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night. Police estimated that 50,000 people swarmed to the area around the arena on Saturday to watch the Predators defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1, in Game 3, watching on outdoor screens and simply partying, and it created an enjoyable atmosphere around the city.
The weather forecast calls for a 30% chance of rain Monday night. The forecast for the game, according to Predators Coach Peter Laviolette, is that Pittsburgh forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will take a lot of shots on goal after both were held without a shot on goal in Game 3. Losing that game trimmed the Penguins' lead in the best-of-seven Final to 2-1.
"There's being a lot made of it," Laviolette told reporters in a news conference. "If you go back and look, try to figure out the amount of plays that they figured into that created scoring chances; they're both excellent passers, they're both capable of scoring goals obviously too. Just because they didn't register a shot on net, we shouldn't deem them ineffective in Game 3. They made a lot of people very effective with the scoring opportunities that they created.
"That being said, because you guys have beat the drum on it enough, they're probably going to look to shoot the puck from all over tonight. Our best interest would be to expect a lot of looks and great plays from them; a plethora of shots as well."
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm said the challenge of defending Crosby (seven goals, 23 postseason points) and Malkin (nine goals and a playoff-leading 26 points) is difficult but it's nothing new for the Predators, who faced Chicago's Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the first round, St. Louis' Vladimir Tarasenko in the second round, and Ducks forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the Western Conference final.
"I think the name of our game has been the defense-first mentality, and to defend well has really been a key to our success," Ekholm said. "We don't look at it as just them. We think they have four good lines and three good [defense] pairs, so we've got to shut down the whole team, and that's our mind-set and that's our goal."
The Penguins held an optional skate Monday morning and most players opted out. Center Nick Bonino, who missed Game 3 as the result of blocking a shot by Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban in Game 2, left the arena with a walking boot on his left foot and using crutches. That would seem to be a strong hint that he won't play Monday but Coach Mike Sullivan said Bonino would be a game-time decision.
If Bonino can't play, the Penguins' advantage over the Predators at center wouldn't be as considerable.
"He's a very good player, so when he's in our lineup, he plays in a lot of key situations," Sullivan said. "He's one of our best penalty killers. He's just got a real good, solid overall two-way game. He has good offensive instincts. We can play him with offensive people. He's on our second power play. He's got great defensive awareness. He's a good faceoff guy. We utilize him in so many aspects of our game. He's a real good, solid two-way center iceman that makes our team more competitive when he's in our lineup."
Center Matt Cullen agreed. "Down the middle is one of the areas that we've been strong all season. When you take Bones out, it changes a lot," Cullen said. "He does a lot for us in every aspect of the game. He plays power play, penalty kill. A really intelligent player. A competitor. Does a lot of things right for us.
"If he can't play it's a big hole to fill but we've done it all season long. If we're called upon to fill his shoes, we have to. Big shoes to fill, but we have guys who are capable."