NASHVILLE -- After watching several passes bounce off sticks and skates through the first few line rushes of the Nashville Predators morning skate Monday, coach Peter Laviolette loudly admonished his players to, "Wake up!"
He mixed in an unprintable word to accentuate his point.
Laviolette's message was clear: The Predators can't afford to lose focus heading into Game 4 of Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bridgestone Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
They are coming off a strong effort in a 5-1 win in Game 3 on Saturday, but trail 2-1 in the best-of-7 series and will need a similar performance in Game 4 against what is likely to be a recommitted Penguins team.
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"We've got to have that same anxiousness, that same mindset to be excited to get going and be ready to go," Predators right wing James Neal said. "We need to have a great start [Monday]. We need to be focused on that and I think that focus starts right from the morning and the morning skate. So we'll go over a few things this afternoon and have a different mindset coming in and be focused and ready to go."
Anything less than what the Predators gave in Game 3 probably would leave them in a 3-1 series hole and on the verge of elimination heading to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Thursday. On the other hand, another Predators win would even the series at 2-2 and seemingly give them all the momentum heading into Game 5.
"Big difference," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "Obviously [it's] a life's on the line kind of thing with 3-1. But 2-2 would be a better feeling in this room and the series would be a best-out-of-3 kind of thing. For us, it's about [Monday] and then we'll talk about anything after that."
The Predators got a win in Game 3 by avoiding the letdowns that had plagued them in losing the first two games of the series in Pittsburgh. They also got much better goaltending from Pekka Rinne, who made 27 saves. Five players scored in the win and they played suffocating defense, holding Penguins star centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a shot on goal.
Video: PIT@NSH, Gm3: Rinne paddles away Sheary's redirect
That was the first time in the NHL that Crosby and Malkin each were held without a shot on goal in the same playoff game. No matter how well the Predators play Monday, they know Crosby, Malkin and the rest of the Penguins will be determined to push back.
"Every team has their pushback throughout the series," Ellis said. "Even throughout a game there's always a pushback. Last game you saw [Rinne] with a couple saves in that second [period] that really kind of swung the momentum in our favor and that's the challenge in every series."
Sporadic rain is expected throughout the day in Nashville, but that probably won't do much to dampen the party atmosphere in and around Bridgestone Arena. The scene for Game 3 was something akin to Mardi Gras, with an estimated 50,000 people descending on Broadway, live music everywhere, celebrity sightings, flying catfish and a city amped up for its first time hosting a Stanley Cup Final game.
As wonderful as all of that was, the most important thing that happened Saturday from the Predators perspective was that they won the game. The players also enjoy the atmosphere, and the Predators' 8-1 record at Bridgestone Arena during the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year demonstrates the home-ice advantage it gives them. But they try not to let it impact their approach to the game.
"It's different for the city and the people who can be outside and enjoy all the hype and excitement, but we need to stay focused and stay dialed in on the job at hand," Predators center Colton Sissons said. "It was cool for us too, don't get me wrong, but all playoffs long it's been business as usual and we're just focused on winning one game at a time, as cliché as that sounds."
If the Predators didn't have that focus at the start of their morning skate, they plan to have it in time for opening faceoff.
"There were some pucks jumping around," Sissons said. "It's no big deal. It happens. But we'll be looking to have a great start and just kind of harness all the energy that will be in our building."