NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have shut down the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan Getzlaf this postseason.
They have slowed down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Stopping them completely? Even Nashville defenders Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and All-Star P.K. Subban are susceptible to an off night as they find out just how hard it is to keep track of Pittsburgh's superstar forwards.
"It just seems to be like every second game, they're talking about how good we play defense and then the other game they talk about how good they are as an offense," Ekholm said Friday. "And that's just going to be like (that). It's world-class players. We can't shut them down game after game."
The Predators need another great defensive performance Sunday night in Game 6 or they will watch Pittsburgh celebrate a second straight Stanley Cup championship on their ice, in front of their frenzied "Smashville" fans, catfish and all. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead Thursday night by routing Nashville 6-0 in a game that did more than just put the Pens a win from the title.
Ellis, who plays with Josi as Nashville's top defensive pair, skated only 10 minutes, 44 seconds during the loss. He lasted just two shifts into the second period before he went to the bench in pain.
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette gave no update on Ellis on Friday. His teammates weren't sharing any information either. Whether Laviolette will start goalie Pekka Rinne isn't a question despite the 34-year-old Finn giving up three goals on nine shots before being pulled after the first period. Not with Rinne 9-1 at home this postseason.
Penguins: Crosby doing it all again with Cup in reach
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby's teammates keep saying nothing ever changes with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain. That the secret to his greatness is really no secret at all. The Penguins believe he remains the same player and the same person every shift, every night.
In theory, yes. But not always in practice.
What separates Crosby is an ability to raise his play in lockstep with the stakes. His team's grasp on a second straight Stanley Cup tenuous at best heading into Game 5 against Nashville on Thursday, Crosby did more than send a message. He took over. And he led. In more ways than one.
Sure, Crosby dished out three assists in Pittsburgh's lopsided 6-0 win to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead in their increasingly coarse series with the Predators. Yet becoming the franchise's all-time leader in points during this Stanley Cup Final (surpassing his boss, Mario Lemieux) captures only a slice of the brilliance and brawn (yes, really) that pushed Pittsburgh to the verge of a fifth title.
There was his quicksilver first shift, when Crosby split the Predators defense shortly after the opening faceoff, then rang shot off the left post while drawing a penalty from Nashville's Ryan Ellis, who tried futilely to slow him down. Pittsburgh scored on the ensuing power play and never looked back.
There was his scrum behind the Nashville net late in the first period with frequent tormentor P.K. Subban. Crosby responded to the All-Star defenseman doing some "UFC move" on his right foot by trying to make Subban's face a permanent part of the ice.
There was the slick blind backhand pass to Conor Sheary just 1:19 into the second period that made it 4-0. Oh, and don't forget the water bottle toss just moments before Phil Kessel's first goal of the series pushed the lead to 5-0. He insists it was accidental.
Crosby only spent 18:03 on the ice during the rout. It just seemed like more.
"When he plays that way it's awfully easy to follow him," Penguins forward Matt Cullen said. "He's pretty inspirational when he plays that way and he gets to a level that not many guys can get to" (see full story).
Predators: Hockey, country music collide in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators' improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals has blurred the dividing line between music and sports, a convergence that's expected to hit a crescendo in Tennessee's capital city this weekend.
The thousands of fans in town to celebrate the annual CMA Music Festival have joined with thousands more hockey fans celebrating in the streets and honkey-tonks of Music City.
"Nashville is a hockey town; they are crazy about the Preds here," said country artist Darius Rucker, the former frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish.
"It's great for hockey for a Southern town to be that much into the team and into the sport."
Anticipation has grown with each game over which country music legend will sing the national anthem. Will it be Carrie Underwood, whose husband, Mike Fisher, is the Predators' captain? Tim McGraw and/or Faith Hill, one of Nashville's power couples? Maybe even Dolly Parton?
The Predators host Game 6 of the NHL Finals on Sunday evening as the country music fest holds its closing concert, headlined by Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. The entertainment district between the two venues will be packed: City officials expect 100,000 people to throng the downtown streets.
Country music fan Darlene Dye, who planned her trip from Dayton, Ohio, months before the Predators' playoff run, said she's enjoyed seeing the team embraced by country stars.
"Even the artists are like, `Go Preds!' And they're wearing their jerseys," she said. "I think it's a blast" (see full story).