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Stanley Cup Final

Coach's analysis: Penguins, one win from Cup, must remain focused

Former NHL assistant Doug Lidster says Pittsburgh needs to take crowd out of game, jump on Predators early in Game 6 of Cup Final

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Doug Lidster to break down the action. Lidster will be checking in throughout the series.

Lidster, 56, was an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-17. He won a Stanley Cup with the 1994 New York Rangers and one with the 1999 Dallas Stars during a 16-year NHL career, before turning to coaching. 

The biggest problem the Pittsburgh Penguins had in Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final was a lack of depth scoring, a lack of scoring beyond Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. So for Doug Lidster, it was heartening to see the scoring in Game 5 come from everyone, notably forwards Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and defensemen Justin Schultz and Ron Hainsey, who each had a goal.

That was the team he had been looking for in Nashville, and that was the team that cruised to a 6-0 win at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday, putting the Penguins up 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, one win away from winning their second consecutive Stanley Cup. 

Although the depth made the difference, it still started with the captain, Crosby.

 

[RELATED: Penguins focused on Game 6 with Stanley Cup in sight]

 

"The difference is such a fine line," Lidster said. "I know the score wasn't indicative of that last night, but Pittsburgh did a terrific job. They've always come out and had really good starts. Crosby set the tone there with his first shift. He continues to be just amazing, to be that terrific leader that we've come to expect out of him."

Then the Penguins got the first goal, a power-play score by Schultz 1:31 into the game, erasing some of the momentum that the Predators had captured by winning Games 3 and 4 at home.

"I think one of the keys was it created a little bit of doubt right off the bat for [Predators goaltender Pekka] Rinne because both goaltenders are struggling in the opposite rink," Lidster said.

Video: Crosby's outstanding performance led to Game 5 win

There was more energy from the Penguins, more balanced scoring, more help down the lineup. There was more desperation. 

"I think they had to go in with the idea that they had to win that game," Lidster said. "They don't want to go back into Nashville down. They have to win that game. The momentum and everything was going Nashville's way. So that extra motivation spurred them on. 

"They'll expect Nashville to feel the same way in Game 6. Nobody wants to get to Game 7. Pittsburgh doesn't want to get to Game 7. They don't want to take that chance because then it's a toss-up. Anything can happen in Game 7."

But before they get there, they will play Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports). 

"I think they need to continue to get off to a good start, try and quiet the crowd down as much as they can," Lidster said, of the Penguins. "They did a good job previously. They've done a good job with their starts, but more importantly they have to maintain that momentum. They died out in the second and third period [in previous games in Nashville] and this is where I thought they missed [Nick] Bonino, the third line."

The question for the Penguins is whether they will be playing a Predators team that is at full strength -- or at least as full strength as it has been in the Stanley Cup Final -- or one that will be without defenseman Ryan Ellis, a huge part of their lineup, who was injured in the second period of Game 5. 

"They have to believe that Nashville is wearing down," Lidster said. "I know that everybody's keyed up at this time of year, but the injury to Ellis, that could be a key factor."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Murray denies Neal's two chances

So too could be the play of goaltender Matt Murray. Neither goaltender has played well in the opponent's building; Rinne did not play well in Game 5, and Murray has struggled in Nashville. Playing steadier defense in front of Murray, not giving up as many odd-man rushes or breakaways to the Predators, would go a long way in helping him maintain the game that he has been able to play at PPG Paints Arena in the Stanley Cup Final. 

With the series returning to Nashville, the most important factor for the Penguins is concentrating on the task at hand. Yes, they need to win one more game to claim the Stanley Cup. But they aren't there yet, and with the distractions that Nashville presents, the priority will be maintaining focus, getting through Game 6 -- and then celebrating, if they manage to come out victorious.

"Nashville has a little bit of a dilemma in that they have to put that last game behind them, but just as importantly Pittsburgh has to put that game behind them," Lidster said. "It doesn't matter that they won by a big score -- 1-0 or 100-0, they still have to win that next game. The last game is always the toughest."

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