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Stanley Cup Final

James Neal of Predators has 'extra motivation' against Penguins

Forward putting old friendships on hold in Stanley Cup Final against Pittsburgh, which traded him to Nashville in 2014

by Robby Stanley / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- There won't be any players in the Stanley Cup Final who lack motivation, but Nashville Predators forward James Neal might just have a little extra. 

Neal spent four seasons with the Penguins, who traded him to the Predators at the 2014 NHL Draft for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. 

With Game 1 of the Final in Pittsburgh on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), Neal has added incentive against his former team.


[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coverage | Colton Sissons thrust into spotlight for Predators in Stanley Cup Final]


"Of course," Neal said Friday. "Any time you get traded from a team and you move on to the next, you always want to play great against your old team. It'd be the same for any guy that got traded. It gives you a little extra motivation, I'd say." 

Most of the hockey world knew Neal had been traded before he did. He was with some Penguins teammates when it happened and didn't have service on his phone.

"I was at Matt Niskanen's wedding in Minnesota," Neal said. "We were out on a boat and hanging out all day. [Penguins forward Chris Kunitz] said, 'It's draft day. You better check your phone,' joking around. When I got back to the room I had a few missed calls, that's for sure. I had no service where we were, so I got the voicemail, listened to it and turned my phone off and that was it." 

Neal said he was shocked by the trade, but knew he wanted to make the best of it. He wasn't very familiar with Nashville, but decided to plant roots as soon as he could.

Video: Neal wins Game 1 of the Western Conference Final

"No, I didn't know much about it, but as soon as I got traded I bought a house here and made it home," Neal said. "I still had three years left on my contract and I didn't want to go anywhere else. I wanted to make it work here and truly wanted to make this place the last place I go, and it's been awesome." 

Nashville put its trust in Neal right away, making him an alternate captain in his first season in 2014-15. He has scored more than 20 goals in each of his nine NHL seasons with the Dallas Stars, Penguins and Predators, and has scored at least 23 goals in each of his three seasons with Nashville. In the 2017 playoffs, he has seven points (five goals, two assists) in 16 games, and in his postseason career has 42 points (24 goals, 18 assists) in 74 games.

"He's been great," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a power forward, gets the puck off, scores goals and can play physical, a veteran player that's been in some games down the road in playoff series, so it's good to have guys like that." 

It didn't take long for Neal to become comfortable with his new city and new teammates.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Neal extends lead, ties club record

"It's been great," he said. "I think it's worked out for both teams, and I couldn't be happier here. It's such a great place to live, such a great place to play. The fans here, everyone talks about it, but it really is a special place to play and what we're doing here is pretty cool. 

"Just the people in this city and how they've rallied behind us and how nice they are, what good people they are, my whole street has signs on it. Every time you leave your house someone is saying good luck or congratulations. Everyone is behind us. It's pretty nice to be a part of." 

Neal maintains some close friendships with several Penguins players, but those will temporarily be pushed to the side once the puck drops for Game 1.

"When you're playing for the Stanley Cup, everyone will say friends will be put aside for a few weeks," Neal said. "We'll go to battle and go to war, do all of the things that can help our team win. I think any guy would say that. It's going to be fun. I'm excited."

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