NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A good night’s sleep has P.K. Subban more confident than ever about what the Nashville Predators will do on their own ice trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins 0-2 in the Stanley Cup Final.
He delivered an All-Star guarantee for Saturday night.
“There’s no question,” Subban said Thursday. “We’re going to win the next game, and then we’ll move forward.”
Subban came very close to guaranteeing a win in the moments after Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win Wednesday night. The Penguins turned a 1-1 game into a rout by scoring three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period , forcing Nashville coach Peter Laviolette to pull star goaltender Pekka Rinne for rookie Juuse Saros.
On Thursday, the All-Star defenseman channeled Mark Messier, who backed up his own guarantee of a Rangers’ win against New Jersey in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals. Subban explained why he was so confident, noting the Predators know they deserve to be playing for the Stanley Cup.
“We’re capable of playing even better than we did in Pittsburgh, and I thought we played some great hockey,” Subban said. “I mean, out of 120 minutes, maybe we’d like to take back six of them. Ultimately, we have to be realistic with where we’re at. We’re down 2-nothing. We’re coming back in our barn, and we don’t lose here. So it starts Saturday.”
Laviolette gave no hint about whether Rinne will start Game 3, saying only that he will not talk about lineup changes. The Predators coach says his goalies know who will start.
Rinne went into the final with the stingiest numbers in net this postseason and a favorite to win the Conn Smythe trophy as postseason MVP. The 34-year-old goalie has instead given up eight goals on 36 shots through two games. Two goals went off teammates and into the net, but it has not been the inspiring performance that the Predators and their fans are used to from the big Finn.
His save percentage has dipped throughout the playoffs — .976 against Chicago, then .932 against St. Louis and .925 in the West finals against Anaheim. Against the quick-strike Penguins, it’s just .778.
Still, the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist has allowed only 13 goals in eight playoff games at home and his teammates vowed to play better defense.
“It’s not his fault by any means,” Nashville captain Mike Fisher said of the goals allowed in Pittsburgh. “We know we can do a better job in front of him. It’s a team game, and everyone looks at shots and save percentage but forget about the quality and who we’re playing. And certain parts of the game where we got to help him out.”
Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who has played with Rinne for six years, called the goalie Nashville’s best player, night in and night out.
“There’s nothing that can replace Peks,” Ellis said.
Returning home should provide a boost for both Rinne and the Predators. They are 7-1 inside Bridgestone Arena this postseason with the lone loss coming in overtime. They expect a loud arena for Game 3, which is the first Cup Final home game in Nashville history and it comes on a Saturday night.
“I’m sure they’ll hear the noise and the energy in the building,” Subban said of the Penguins. “It’s a fun atmosphere to play.”
Nashville may be home, but the Penguins have history on their side.
Since the Final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939, teams leading 2-0 have won 45 of 50 series. That includes the last three such situations with the Kings winning in 2012 and 2014 and the Penguins a year ago.
Pittsburgh also is proof that a team can rally from an 0-2 deficit to win the Stanley Cup, doing it in 2009 to beat Detroit in seven games. Boston did the same thing against Vancouver in 2011, also a seven-game series.
Coach Mike Sullivan said his Penguins are experienced enough to understand the need to focus. The Penguins lost 5-1 in Nashville last October, and the atmosphere will be much more intense this time around with a forecast that could include fan-tossed catfish.
“I think we have to embrace the energy that’s going to be in the city and in the building,” Sullivan said. “We’ve just got to focus on those things that we can control, and that’s going to be our competitive level, our attitude, our execution, all of those things within our control. That’s where our focus is going to be.”