Hockey Day Preview: Penguins, Blackhawks hope to play like champions today

The two most recent Stanley Cup champions square off during their only game of the season as the Chicago Blackhawks (2010 champs) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009 winners) for Hockey Day in America’s closing game at 3:30 pm ET.

Fans can be forgiven if they wonder: are these teams really the Penguins and Blackhawks?

Injuries, trades and exhaustion have beaten down both teams, leaving each squad to wonder when – if ever – they’ll look like their old selves again.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain sidelined with significant injuries for the Penguins, who must lean on an attacking defense and scrappers such as defensive center Jordan Staal to manufacture offense. Pittsburgh’s status as an Eastern Conference playoff team seems relatively safe as they sit in fourth place, but their chances of wrestling the Atlantic Division crown from the Philadelphia Flyers are dim at best.

While this win would be a great boost for the struggling Penguins, the pressure is really on the wobbling Blackhawks. Salary cap-related trades forced Chicago to allow Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to increase their profiles with the Atlanta Thrashers and also caused GM Stan Bowman to move useful depth winger Kris Versteeg. Of course, the Hawks also parted with their goalie duo of Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet for cap-related reasons too. If that wasn’t enough, Chicago might not have their Cup-winning coach behind the bench either, as Joel Quenneville was just released from the hospital yesterday.

The Hawks are currently locked in an 11th-place tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Western Conference’s convoluted playoff bubble. Their position isn’t as bad as it sounds since they’re only four points out of a spot in the top eight, but the defending champs will need to scratch and claw every week to make it into the postseason after cruising in last season. These are the kind of games they absolutely need to win if they want to accomplish that goal.

While both teams are far from full strength, the bright side for hockey fans is that each team has plenty to play for. There’s also still plenty of talent on the ice, as Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang were all-stars for Pittsburgh while the Blackhawks boast high-end talent such as Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith.

Both teams will need their remaining stars to step up if they want to come within a breath of their previous heights.

For more on this game, take a gander at the Associated Press preview.

Video: Trisha Yearwood sings national anthem for Preds-Ducks

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Keith Urban sang the national anthem for Game 3. Kelly Clarkson did the honors for the Nashville Predators before Game 4. Next up: Trisha Yearwood for Game 6.

The Predators hope to close out the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and they got off to a nice start with Austin Watson scoring a quick 1-0 goal. Not long after, the Predators added another to build to a 2-0 lead.

Garth Brooks spoiled Yearwood’s appearance a bit before the contest.

Brooks also revealed Yearwood’s early fan creds:

Nick Ritchie ejected after boarding, bloodying Viktor Arvidsson (Video)

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored a goal in Game 4, but he won’t be able to provide such a scoring boost for his team in Game 6.

That’s because he was ejected during the first period after hitting rising Nashville Predators star Viktor Arvidsson from behind, bloodying the slick Swede.

Ritchie was whistled for a game misconduct and major. Remarkably, the Ducks killed the entire five-minute power-play opportunity, with Ryan Kesler‘s shorthanded chance being one of the better opportunities for either team.

It’s still a big blunder, but if the Ducks can get back in it, remember that big kill.

Video of the hit is coming soon. For now, check out the GIF:

Oddly, Arvidsson left the ice with a wound that more or less spelled out “R,” presumably for Ritchie, maybe celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks.”

(Such an obvious move might not be surreal enough for David Lynch, though. Alex Prewitt’s Zorro reference might be more, um, on the mark.)

Video: Predators storm off to 2-0 lead, beguile Bernier early on

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It was already loud at Bridgestone Arena, but the Nashville Predators are making it a madhouse with a strong start against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

First, it was Austin Watson, who sent a puck off a Ducks skate to score a 1-0 goal on Nashville’s first shot on Jonathan Bernier, who is starting instead of John Gibson. That came about 90 seconds into the game, really revving up the crowd.

Colton Sissons scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final – on his first shot on goal of the series – to make it 2-0. At that point, Bernier had allowed two goals on three shots on goal. Bernier’s made a few stops since then, but it’s a shaky start for a Ducks team facing elimination.

There’s some solace in that Anaheim’s often at its best in dire situations, though you have to wonder how many times they can bounce back from this?

No Mike Fisher or Craig Smith for Predators in Game 6

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The Anaheim Ducks won’t have John Gibson back, but the Nashville Predators are dealing with some injury-related letdowns, too.

Craig Smith skated before Game 6, but he opted not to play on Monday. Mike Fisher is also unable to go for the Predators as they aim to eliminate Anaheim.

The Ducks also won’t have Rickard Rakell back in the mix, so this physical Western Conference Final continues to feel like a battle of attrition.

Click here for the official roster report.

Game 5 is airing on NBCSN right now. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.