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5 Keys: Predators at Penguins, Game 1

Defense of Nashville must continue strong play; Patric Hornqvist's return could spark Pittsburgh

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PREDATORS at PENGUINS

8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports

Stanley Cup Final Game 1

 

PITTSBURGH -- After much anticipation, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, starting with Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday.

Nashville should be well-rested after last playing May 22, against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final. Pittsburgh won't have that same luxury after winning 3-2 in the second overtime against the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday.

Here are 5 keys for Game 1:

 

1. Patric Hornqvist's return

Hornqvist, who has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury, will play, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. He could play fourth-line right wing next to center Matt Cullen and either Jake Guentzel or Carl Hagelin on left wing.

Sullivan did not disclose whether he would scratch Guentzel or Hagelin.

Hornqvist likely would resume his role as the net-front presence on Pittsburgh's top power-play unit.

"I don't think we ease anybody into the lineup," Sullivan said. "When our guys go into the lineup, they're ready to play. Period."

Video: Basu and Rosen preview Game 1 between Pens and Preds

 

2. Pekka Rinne vs. Matt Murray

Plenty of discussion around the Penguins has focused on how they can solve Rinne. He is 12-4 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

Murray has equally impressive numbers, but with a much smaller sample size. He has a 1.35 GAA and .946 save percentage in five games (four starts) since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period of Game 3 in the conference final.

Each goalie likely will be heavily leaned on throughout the series.

 

3. Fast start

The Predators haven't reached the Stanley Cup Final before. Pittsburgh is attempting to defend its 2016 championship, so its experience could keep it from feeling overwhelmed.

"We want to use that [experience] to our advantage," Penguins forward Conor Sheary said, "but also realize it's a new season."

The Penguins are 11-2 in the playoffs when scoring first; Nashville is 7-2.

Video: SAP Stats: NSH vs. PIT statistical analysis

 

4. Nashville's defense

After defeating the Senators in Game 7, Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said the Predators have "four Erik Karlssons." Ottawa's defense, led by Karlsson, frustrated Pittsburgh throughout the conference final, especially in the first three games.

The Predators' defense could be an even tougher test with P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi making up two of their three defense pairs.

"All of our defensemen have done a really good job," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "With regard to the top four, they've all played against top lines."

 

5. Mike Fisher's health

Fisher, Nashville's captain, is expected to be available for Game 1. He last played in Game 4 against the Ducks, when Anaheim defenseman Josh Manson hit him with a knee to the head.

After finishing with 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in 72 games during the regular season, Fisher has no points in 14 playoff games. He is the only Predators player who has previous Stanley Cup Final experience (five games with the Ottawa Senators in 2007), which could be a valuable asset for Nashville against the defending champions.

"He's obviously our leader," forward James Neal said. "He's the heart and soul of our team."

Video: Will Mike Fisher be able to play in Game 1

 

Predators projected lineup

Filip Forsberg -- Colton Sissons -- Pontus Aberg

Viktor Arvidsson -- Mike Fisher -- James Neal

Colin Wilson -- Calle Jarnkrok -- Craig Smith

Frederick Gaudreau -- Vernon Fiddler -- Austin Watson

Mattias Ekholm -- P.K. Subban

Roman Josi -- Ryan Ellis

Matt Irwin -- Yannick Weber

Pekka Rinne

Juuse Saros

Scratched: Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt, Vladislav Kamenev, Marek Mazanec, PA Parenteau, Petter Granberg, Miikka Salomaki, Harry Zolnierczyk, Cody McLeod

Injured: Ryan Johansen (acute compartment syndrome), Kevin Fiala (fractured left femur)

 

Penguins projected lineup

Chris Kunitz -- Sidney Crosby -- Conor Sheary

Scott Wilson -- Evgeni Malkin -- Phil Kessel

Bryan Rust -- Nick Bonino -- Carter Rowney

Jake Guentzel -- Matt Cullen -- Patric Hornqvist

Brian Dumoulin -- Ron Hainsey

Olli Maatta -- Trevor Daley

Ian Cole -- Justin Schultz

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

Scratched: Carl Hagelin, Mark Streit, Josh Archibald, Oskar Sundqvist, Cameron Gaunce, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Derrick Pouliot, Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, David Warsofsky, Frank Corrado, Kevin Porter, Garrett Wilson, Tom Sestito, Tristan Jarry, Sean Maguire

Injured: Kris Letang (neck surgery), Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body), Chad Ruhwedel (concussion)

 

Status report

In addition to Fisher, the Predators could have Smith, who has one assist in four playoff games, back in the lineup. He hasn't played since May 7 because of a lower-body injury. … Hagelin remained on the ice well after most of the Penguins left the optional morning skate, which could signal that he'll be a health scratch. Guentzel likely would play fourth-line left wing if that's the case.

 

Who's hot

Sissons had a hat trick in Game 6 against the Ducks. He has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 16 playoff games. … Kunitz scored twice in Game 7 against Ottawa, including the series-winner at 5:09 of the second overtime, after not scoring since Feb. 16.

 

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