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Predators’ ‘dog-on-a-bone mentality’ has carried them during playoff run

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The instant one of the Pittsburgh Penguins passes the puck to a teammate, one of the Nashville Predators closes in, taking away any time or space to operate.

The junkyard dog approach to hockey for the Stanley Cup Final debutants has a history: It is the Predators’ on-ice version of Stanley, the blue mutt with a bone clenched between his teeth. He’s the team mascot whose picture is stuck on the Predators’ locker-room door, now with two bandages commemorating playoff-ending injuries first to forward Kevin Fiala, then center Ryan Johansen. The dog, its name tag hanging from a spiked collar, bares his teeth in photos on three walls inside, too.

Stanley is the symbol of how coach Peter Laviolette wanted his Predators to play this season. They responded with an attacking, never-stop approach that has helped Nashville go from the last team into the NHL playoffs to one that is two wins from a championship. The Predators are tied 2-2 with the Penguins with Game 5 coming up Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

“We definitely know what our identity is,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. “It’s kind of the dog-on-a-bone mentality. And we want to dictate the pace of the game, and we want to attack you in all three zones as a five-man unit and be tough to play against. And I think everybody on our team can skate, move the puck and make plays.”

Read more: Predators forecheck giving Penguins d-men plenty of problems

Stanley is more than just a cartoon dog. The Predators also award the best player in each game a heavy chain as a reward, a hockey version of a game ball. The Predators in past years have given out a construction worker’s hard hat to recognize the best player in a game.

Defenseman Matt Irwin says Stanley shows exactly how the Predators want to play.

“If you think of Stanley and you look at him, his knees are bent, he’s in an athletic stance, his mouth’s drooling,” Irwin said. “It’s the intensity he brings, and that’s the kind of intensity we want to bring to our game every night.”

That’s exactly what Laviolette wanted when the Stanley concept was introduced months ago. Irwin said winning the big chain is a very cool honor, even though he’s won it only once this season.

“Obviously when you win the chain, it’s recognition from your teammates you contributed and you had a solid night,” Irwin said.

Photos of a menacing dog and a chain can only go so far, though. The Predators finished the regular season 16th in the NHL with 94 points. They knew they would be starting on the road in every series, and the Predators responded by winning the opener of their first three series.

Now they head to Pittsburgh needing to find a way to win in the home ice of the defending champions after dropping Games 1 and 2.

The Predators are 5-5 away from Nashville this postseason. They are getting production from everyone who hits the ice, with 19 different players scoring at least one goal – two shy of the NHL record of 21 held by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers. They also have killed 24 of 25 penalties in the Stanley Cup Final.

In Game 1, Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent without a shot on goal in a period of a Final game since the NHL started tracking that statistic in 1957, and that drought lasted 37 minutes even though Pittsburgh pulled out a 5-3 win. In Game 3, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a shot on goal in the same playoff game for the first time in their careers.

Mattias Ekholm said everything is designed to make opponents work hard and fellow defenseman Ryan Ellis noted that the hard work is required of the Predators, too.

“As much as it is about skill and speed and all that, it’s the work ethic, it’s the little things, and I think that’s kind of the idea behind that is doing the right thing and working as hard as we can,” Ellis said. “I mean working hard in a game trumps all no matter skill level or this or that.”

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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