Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals could be the final clash of wills. Will the Predators forecheck and aggressive puck pressure again suffocate the Penguins on Nashville ice, or will the Penguins find space behind the Predators attack turn their speed loose on Preds?
Watch the first 10 minutes.
The first 10 minutes is unlikely to decide the game, but the attacking team will give you a clean look into each team’s mindset.
At Penguins practice in Cranberry, Saturday, Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary were asked by a 93-7 the Fan reporter about the start of the game. Sheary and Crosby set a dominant tone in the first shift of Game 5, which carried the Penguins to a blowout win.
Curiously, Sheary and Crosby each used the similar words, “We may not be up 1 or 2-0, but…”
In other words, the Penguins are not ceding the first 10 to the Predators on their home ice. The Penguins are not going to sit back, or hunker down for a Predators attack. It is the visitor, the experienced veterans with history on the line who is anxious to throw a knockout punch.
It may be a right and left hook combination from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. With a Phil Kessel uppercut. Or perhaps a Sheary roundhouse.
Raise their Heartbeat
The Penguins will accomplish several goals with another strong start. First, they will impose their will on the Predators, who then must counter. This is the first game in the 2017 playoffs in which the Predators face elimination. The pressure must be enormous. The Stanley Cup, in the building. So close.
A strong start by the Penguins will test the Predators mental game, unlike anything they have experienced. Doubt, additional pressure to make a play, and desperation could lead to more mistakes. When players try to do too much, bad things happen.
The start will also create momentum for the Penguins. They never relinquished it in Game 5. Skating downhill, even on the Nashville slush, is much easier than coming from behind with 19,000 chanting, screaming fans.
A strong start by the Penguins will silence the crowd. Remember the first period of Game 3? Silence. A pair of huge saves by Preds netminder Pekka Rinne, early in the second, changed the game. Until that moment, the Penguins were inches away from ending the series.
But the Penguins were able to successfully deflate the history making, greatest crowd in hockey history for more than a period. If they’re able to do the same in Game 6, that passion and energy will begin to turn on the Predators, adding to their desperation.
Live by the crowd, die by the crowd.
If the Penguins do indeed have the strong start, even if they “don’t go up 1 or 2-0”, they will have set the parameters of the game. If the Penguins speed game is again present, chances will be plenty. That’s all any team can ask.
So, watch for the early chip play to center ice. Watch the Penguins forwards–if they’re able to get the puck and push ahead, which will make Nashville chase, it will be a good night for the Penguins.
If Nashville is waiting on the puck and aggressively counters, and it’s the Penguins who are chasing, then…wait for the next 10 minutes. The first 10 can knockout the Predators, not the Penguins.
That is the spoil of experience…and a 3-2 lead.
Lord Stanley is in the house. We’ll see if history follows.
Odds and Ends
–Nashville media is STILL belaboring my Wednesday column. Good grief.
–The prevailing opinions in Nashville radio are: Sidney Crosby is the golden boy of the NHL, “All calls will go his way, that’s just the NHL.” (Seriously, have y’all actually watched this league?!). Crosby is a dirty player and should have been suspended for dribbling PK Subban’s. The Predators have been playing clean hockey, but they may have to stoop to the Penguins level in Game 6.
Seriously. I’ll just let you comment on that.
–Look for a big game from Matt Cullen. Gut feeling, nothing more.
3:22 p.m. UPDATE: It has been reported to PittsburghHockeyNOW.com, former Maple Leafs Assistant GM and media personality Bill Watters has reported he has a reliable source who confirms crowd noise is amplified. Stay tuned for more.