PITTSBURGH — When the Nashville Predators lost the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins they had every reason to remain confident in their game.
They were not only the better team at times and carried the play for extended stretches against the defending champs, but they had a great chance to win both games. In the end, they did not, but the process was still in place and they ended up getting the results over the next two to even the series.
None of that was not the case on Thursday night in their 6-0 Game 5 loss that turned into a blowout within the first 10 minutes.
As a result they are now facing elimination for the first time this postseason and have to win on Sunday night in Nashville to extend the series to a seventh game.
They do not seem phased by the situation and remain confident in their ability to defend home ice at Bridgestone Arena where they are 8-1 this postseason and have yet to lose a game in regulation.
“The real hockey starts now,” said Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.
“You’re in the Stanley Cup Final, this is what it’s all about. It’s about going back and forth and back and forth. At the end of the day we’ve already parked this game, we are focussing on Game 6 in our building. We know the energy is going to be there. We know we are going to play our best hockey and we’re going to come back with an even better performance.”
It would be difficult for them to follow up Thursday’s game with a worse a performance. For the Predators, it was probably their worst overall game in what has been an otherwise dominant postseason.
Coach Peter Laviolette was adamant that his team will be ready for Sunday.
“Our guys will be ready,” said Laviolette. “I’m telling you, there is a lot of confidence in that room. We have a lot of confidence in our home building. We have a lot of confidence in the way we played this year and we have a lot of confidence in the way we’ve played in the playoffs. Think about it, you’ve played over 20 games and there are probably two games where we could have played better. This was one of them. Our guys will respond.”
In a sign of just how quickly things can get flipped upside down in a best-of-seven series the big question for the Predators now once again drifts back to starting goalie Pekka Rinne.
After a tough start to the series in Games 1 and 2, including a Game 2 performance that saw him be replaced by Juuse Saros, Rinne bounced back with two spectacular showings on home ice and seemed to have the series trending in Nashville’s favor.
Then on Thursday everything fell apart in the first period and it was once again Saros going back into the game.
Even with that performance and having to switch goalies twice in the first five games of the series Laviolette and the Predators remain firmly behind their starter. Especially given the way he played earlier this postseason when he was one of the biggest keys to their success.
“I know we have to be better in front of him,” said Laviolette. “If you go back and look at the goals and the way they scored, we gave up the power play early on. The next two we need better coverage. There are things we can do better in front of him. I don’t think they were bad goals. We’ll look to clean that up and be better the next game. Our guys have a tremendous amount of confidence in him we have to be better in front of him.”
Rinne was asked about his confidence level after the game.
“Good,” he said. “Feeling good. Obviously disappointed with the game. That was a huge game, we came here well prepared and we did not have it tonight. As a team we just have to feel confident playing at home.”
There is almost no question that Rinne will be back in net for Game 6, especially after Juuse Saros gave up three goals of his own after replacing him.