NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators are holding out hope that Ryan Ellis will be able to play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports) after the injured defenseman skated on his own prior to the team's optional morning skate.
Ellis, who left after sustaining an unspecified injury in the second period of a 6-0 loss in Game 5 in Pittsburgh on Thursday, was on the ice about a half hour before the morning skate. He did not skate or shoot the puck at full speed.
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With the Predators trailing 3-2 in the best-of-7 series and facing elimination, Ellis appeared to be testing his injury to see if he would be able to play through it.
"We fully expect Ryan to play," defenseman Matt Irwin said. "As of right now, that's the way we're looking at it, and after that I think any of us are comfortable playing with anyone no matter how it shapes up. So we'll just go from there."
Ellis, 26, ranks third in the League among defensemen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 21 games, and his five goals rank second among defensemen behind teammate Roman Josi's six. He also ranks fourth on the Predators during the playoffs in average ice time per game (23:23).
If Ellis is unable to play, Irwin would likely move up from the third pair to his spot in the top four and play alongside Josi. Irwin stepped in during the regular season when P.K. Subban, Josi and Ellis missed games with injuries.
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"Back when we were coming off of November and we went into December and half of January there, we had different defensemen going out for different reasons and Matt was excellent at moving up," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a big, strong player. Whether he was playing with [Mattias] Ekholm or whether he was playing with Josi or whether he was playing with Ellis, he did a really good job moving up the lineup."
Anthony Bitetto or Brad Hunt would dress as the sixth defensemen if Ellis sits out. They remained on the ice for extra work at the end of the morning skate but said they were preparing to play if needed. Neither has played this postseason.
Bitetto, 26, played in all 14 of the Predators' playoff games last year. He had seven assists in 29 games during the 2016-17 regular season.
"I've been preparing the same way each game, so no matter who is in the lineup what I do hasn't changed," Bitetto said. "So I think I'll be ready if I'm and we'll see at [8 p.m. ET]."
Hunt, who was acquired on waivers from the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 17, has never played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. The 28-year-old had six points (one goal, five assists) in 12 games with the Blues and the Predators this season. He also had 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 23 games with Chicago in the American Hockey League.
Getting into a game in the Stanley Cup Final would be special for him.
"It's a dream," Hunt said. "No matter what, it's been the ultimate experience. So I'm just taking the experience in and learning a bunch and going from there."
It's possible the Predators will dress seven defensemen in case Ellis plays but can't make it through the full game. Left wing Harry Zolnierczyk stayed on the ice for extra work at the end of the morning skate after playing in each of the past three games, but said he was following his normal routine.
"It was an optional and I always like to go out [for] the morning skate," he said, "and I usually stay out to be one of the last ones just feeling the puck and stuff like that."