NASHVILLE — Will he or won’t he?
That’s the big question surrounding Ryan Ellis‘ playing status for tonight’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, the first time Nashville’s faced elimination this postseason.
Ellis left a blowout Game 5 loss Thursday with an undisclosed injury in the second period. On Sunday morning, he skated individually prior to his teammates taking the ice. It didn’t look as though he could put much power on his shot, and he didn’t stick around for the club’s optional skate.
Whether he goes or not is truly up in the air. Opinions were mixed among his teammates, though fellow blueliner Matt Irwin said the Preds “fully expect” Ellis to play.
If Ellis can’t go, Anthony Bitetto or Brad Hunt would draw into the lineup. Bitetto’s played 27 and 28 games for Nashville in each of the last two seasons, spending the majority of his time in AHL Milwaukee. He hasn’t played this postseason.
Hunt, who also has yet to dress these playoffs, has bounced around over the last few years, playing in Edmonton and St. Louis before landing with Nashville. The Preds claimed him off waivers in January, and he proceeded to play in three games.
Fellow blueliner Roman Josi spoke highly of both options.
“Every time [Bitetto and Hunt] have stepped in, they’ve done a great job,” Josi said. “They’ve been working hard the whole playoffs, and they’ve been skating a lot. We have a lot of confidence in those two guys.”
Despite that glowing review, there’s no sugarcoating the potential loss of Ellis. It would be a big blow, and the domino effect could be severe. Ellis and Josi have spent much of this series against the Sidney Crosby line, so it would put serious pressure on Preds head coach Peter Laviolette to devise new pairings — or, perhaps, just move Irwin up to play alongside Josi.
“Matt has been terrific. He’s moved around the lineup,” Laviolette explained. “Back when we were coming off of November and we went into December and half of January there, we had different defensemen going out for different reasons, and Matt was excellent at moving up.”