The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators meet in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night (8 p.m. ET). Here are five keys to this huge game, with the Penguins up 2-1 in the series after the Predators’ 5-1 win on Saturday.
Home sweet home
By now you’ve heard plenty about how crazy Bridgestone Arena has been during Predators game. It’s loud, boisterous and very, very yellow. And whatever you want to attribute it to, the Predators’ on-ice results have been favorable when they’re playing in front of their fans this postseason.
Nashville is 8-1 at home in these playoffs, while the Penguins have struggled away from PPG Paints Arena with a 5-5 record. Crowd volume aside, Peter Laviolette being able to get the last change has been beneficial for getting favorable matchups for the Predators.
Since 2009, home teams are 36-16 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Bonino, Bonino, Boni-no?
Nick Bonino missed Game 3 but took part in Sunday’s practice. He didn’t skate in Monday’s optional and was seen leaving the rink in a boot again after suffering the injury blocking a shot in Game 2.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Bonino is a game-time decision. Another absence would be tough for them, as the center plays multiple situations, like on the penalty kill and their second power play unit. He’s also good on draws and isn’t a liability defensively.
Murray’s bounce-back ability
As we wrote about earlier, the Penguins and Matt Murray have been very good in games after losses, especially in the postseason. Murray is 7-0 in his playoff career following a loss with a .935 save percentage. Will that trend continue tonight?
Special teams must be special
Through three games the Predators have been winning the special teams battle over the Penguins. Nashville’s power play (40 percent) and penalty kill (92.3 percent) have out-shined Pittsburgh’s units (7.7 percent power play, 60 percent shorthanded).
“I think the penalty kill has done a good job just with execution, reading plays,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. “They’re a difficult group to defend because there’s a of skill, especially on that first unit. Makes it difficult. I think our guys have done a good job. Power play is about the same thing, execution. I think our guys have done a good job at that, getting up through the neutral zone, getting up into play in the offensive zone, and finding the right opportunities.”
The Predators held Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to zero combined shots in Game 3. How rare is that? It was the first time that’s ever happened to the Penguins star forwards in their playoff careers. With Nashville’s aggressiveness, Sullivan continues to harp to his players to be patient when creating opportunities and don’t try to force what’s not there.
“I think as long as we’re diligent in that regard. We are a team I think that has the ability to use our opponent’s aggression against them,” he said. “You’ve seen it throughout the course of this playoffs, when teams try to come at us hard. They want to pinch the walls, they want to try to establish a heavy presence, our team has the ability to quick strike. I think that’s one of the strengths of our group. We’ve got to recognize when those opportunities present themselves. When they do, we’ve got to try to attack and make sure we make the most of those opportunities.”
The Penguins have been out-played in the series through three games, but hold the most important stat of being up 2-1 in the series. Matt Cullen said we’ve yet to see their best game. Will it come tonight or will we head back to Pittsburgh with the home teams holding serve?
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