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Predators know they 'have to be great' in Game 3

Down 2-0 to Penguins, defenseman P.K. Subban says, 'We're going to win the next game'

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Nashville Predators had plenty of reasons to be discouraged after their 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday.

In fact, they certainly looked frustrated over the final minutes of another game they dominated for long stretches but ended up losing. The defining image of that frustration might have been that of defenseman P.K. Subban slamming a water bottle to the floor of the penalty box after his fight with Evgeni Malkin with 7:46 remaining.

But Subban presented a different image later in the locker room, one of confidence that the Predators will turn around the series with a win in Game 3 in Nashville on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

 

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"Right away, the focus shifts to we don't lose in our building," Subban said. "So we're going back home, we're going to win the next game, and then we'll see what happens from there."

Although the Predators trail 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, their 7-1 record at Bridgestone Arena during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs should fuel their belief that they can come back. But they're going to need more than that to derail the Penguins, who are two wins from becoming the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

As they did in a 5-3 loss in Game 1 on Monday, the Predators controlled play for much of the night, forcing turnovers that led to scoring chances and holding the Penguins without even a sniff of a good scoring chance for extended stretches. But they experienced again what the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals experienced against the Penguins in the first two rounds.

Video: Subban: We're going to win the next game

The Penguins goaltending is good enough to hold them in games long enough for their skilled offensive players to make big plays. And those skilled players don't need many chances.

In the first two rounds, Marc-Andre Fleury was the one in net frustrating the Blue Jackets and Capitals.

Rookie Matt Murray resumed his position as the Penguins' No. 1 goaltender in the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators and has been superb in the first two games against the Predators.

Murray made 37 saves Wednesday, including 31 in the first two periods to keep the score 1-1.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne hasn't come close to matching Murray so far. He imploded Wednesday and allowed three goals in the opening 3:28 of the third period before being replaced by backup Juuse Saros. That came after Rinne gave up four goals on 11 shots in Game 1.

"It's not [Rinne]. It's what we're doing in front of him," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "We need to stay within our system. Our biggest strength is our system, and when that breaks down, when any team's system breaks down, it's usually a chance against, and they have elite players and they're going to make plays."

Ellis is correct. It's not all Rinne's fault. They haven't helped him with some of their defensive breakdowns. They also repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with penalties in Game 2.

Seemingly every time the Predators appeared ready to take control, they would temporarily derail their momentum by taking a penalty. After Pontus Aberg scored on a brilliant individual effort to give Nashville a 1-0 lead with 7:03 left in the first period -- their first and only lead of the series so far -- defenseman Roman Josi took a cross-checking penalty on Penguins forward Conor Sheary 1:35 later.

Pittsburgh didn't covert on the resulting power play, but Jake Guentzel scored four seconds after Josi exited the penalty box to tie the game 1-1 with 3:24 left in the first. The Penguins went 0-for-7 on the power play for the game, including 0-for-5 in the first two periods. But that time spent killing penalties proved costly for the Predators.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm2: Rinne, Josi deny Pens early

"All of a sudden we're losing sync all the time because we keep going to the penalty box," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "So discipline, even though they didn't score [on the power play], it definitely affected the bench, the way the game played out."

It left the Penguins in position to take over the game with their quick-strike offense in the third period. Guentzel scored on a rebound 10 seconds in. Then Scott Wilson and Evgeni Malkin scored 15 seconds apart to make it 4-1.

The Penguins had a similar surge late in the first period of Game 1 when they scored three times in 4:11 to jump out to a 3-0 lead.

"You've got to give them credit, they capitalized on mistakes, but for us we've done a lot of good things well," Subban said. "But this is the Stanley Cup Final, that's the Stanley Cup champion over there, you can't just play well. You have to be great to win at this point in time. We have to be better and we will be."

If they're not better Saturday, they could be on the verge of being swept.

"Obviously, it's frustrating," Ellis said. "You're on the biggest stage in the Stanley Cup Final, you have a chance to play for a Cup, and the results haven't been there. But throughout this year, more times than not when we play that way, we find ourselves in a successful position. So flip the page, put that one behind us, learn from our mistakes, get better, and keep throwing everything we've got at them."

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