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Stanley Cup Final

5 Penguins who must contribute against Predators in Game 5

Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Patric Hornqvist among Pittsburgh players who need to step up with Cup Final tied 2-2

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Let's start with the obvious: A big game from right wing Phil Kessel could mean a big night for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins haven't gotten a big game out of Kessel since he had a goal and an assist in a 7-0 win against the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Pittsburgh likely won't score seven goals in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), but it is reasonable to go into the game with the expectation that Kessel can and will make a difference, even if he hasn't done that yet in the best-of-7 series, which is tied 2-2.

"Now it's time," Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said of Kessel on Wednesday.

Kessel has gone six straight games without a goal and has one goal in the past nine games. 

However, he's far from the only Penguins player who hasn't done enough yet in the Stanley Cup Final. He has company from the following five, who with an uptick in their contributions also could help Pittsburgh have a big night against Nashville.

 

Conor Sheary

Sheary is going to get a chance to make a big difference in Game 5. He's likely going to start on the top line with captain Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel after they skated together in practice Wednesday.

"I do have a comfort level with them," Sheary said. 

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Sheary finishes Kunitz's feed

The line was one of the most dynamic in the NHL late in the regular season. However, it was broken up in the first round and hasn't been put back together until now.

Sheary had a goal in Game 1 of the Final and an assist in Game 2, but his ice time has dropped in each of the four games, from 16:01 in Game 1 to 10:45 in Game 4. He had one shot on goal in Game 4.

 

Bryan Rust

Rust admittedly is frustrated with his play in the series. He has no goals, one assist and three shots on goal in four games. He played on a line with Crosby and Guentzel in Game 4 and couldn't finish a handful of chances Crosby set up for him.

"Just not winning enough puck battles, not holding onto the puck enough, not getting as many pucks to the net as I'd like," Rust said. "It's just one of those times when I might be in a little bit of a slump and just trying to work my way out."

Rust has been a big-game player for the Penguins. He scored the series-clinching goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of the first round and the Washington Capitals in Game 7 of the second round. He also had a goal and an assist in Game 5 against Ottawa. However, he has no goals and six shots on goal in six games since.

 

Patric Hornqvist

Hornqvist is dealing with an injury because he has missed practices, and he rarely misses a practice. The forward missed the last six games of the conference final against the Senators because of an upper-body injury. He has since been seen with his hand wrapped in ice.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm7: Hornqvist shovels in a backhand

"He's doing fine," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Hornqvist hasn't produced much offensively through four games against Nashville. He has no points and nine shots on goal, including five in Game 3. The Penguins' power play has struggled, going 1-for-16 in the Final. Hornqvist typically creates chaos in front of the net on the power play, but that hasn't been the case against Nashville.

 

Olli Maatta

Maatta is right when he says nothing about his game is flashy, but he's also right when he says he has more to give.

"I think you've got to have that 'A' performance if you want to win in this series," the defenseman said, "and I definitely have to be better."

Maatta said an "A" performance for him is to play simple and move the puck quickly. He also could add: Don't turn the puck over, keep a tight gap, stay in position and avoid getting beat 1-on-1. Those four things have plagued Maatta at times against Nashville. That was evident in Game 2, when Predators forward Pontus Aberg skated around him to score.

Maatta also hasn't contributed offensively to make up for defensive shortfalls. He has no points and three shots on goal and his ice time has reflected his play. Maatta played 22:14 in Game 1 but dropped to 18:44 in Game 2. He went up to 19:29 in Game 3 but fell to 18:07 in Game 4, his lowest ice time in the past 14 games.

 

Justin Schultz

Schultz was minus-3 in Game 4, including getting caught flat-footed in the neutral zone by Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson on what turned into a breakaway goal. The defenseman also was on the ice for Predators forward Filip Forsberg's length-of-the ice empty-net goal, so he gets a pass on that.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm7: Schultz rings in wrist shot for PPG

In addition, Schultz is the point man on a power play that has gone 0-for-13 since Game 1.

However, Schultz is playing a different role than was intended; he has had to take on some of injured defenseman Kris Letang's responsibilities and ice time. Schultz averaged 13:00 of ice time per game, including 1:40 on the power play, in 15 playoff games last year, when Letang was healthy. Schultz is averaging 19:46 per game, including 3:30 on the power play, through 19 playoff games this year.

"He's playing lots of minutes for us, in situations that we haven't asked him to play in the past, out of necessity," Sullivan said. "He's done nothing but embrace the challenge. It's never perfect out there for any of our guys. We love his compete level."

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