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Stanley Cup Final

Predators using forecheck as weapon against Penguins in Cup Final

Aggressive approach has helped Nashville even best-of-7 series entering Game 5

by Robby Stanley / Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- An aggressive forecheck has been a weapon for the Nashville Predators against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

They want to continue to utilize it in Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The best-of-7 series is tied 2-2.


[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Predators look to stay on even keel]


The Penguins have elite forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, who are highly skilled at being able to cleanly enter the offensive zone and set up the attack.

Nashville's strategy so far has been to put lots of pressure on Pittsburgh's defensemen with the forecheck to prevent them from breaking out of the defensive zone cleanly and getting the puck to the forwards with speed.

"I think the one thing with [the Penguins] is when you allow their [defensemen] to turn up ice and move the puck up the zone and maybe pass it to their winger, who is two or three zones away, and then chip it to one of their centermen with speed," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "We know how good their centermen are with Crosby and Malkin, how they can create off the rush. I think we've done a good job of making it tough for them to come out of their zone with speed, and that helps.

"Especially with our defense. It helps us get our gaps and allows our [third forward high] to track well and cut them off before the red line to force bad dumps or force icings or force them enough to give our [defense] a chance to get back and get our feet moving, and skate the puck out of the zone or make the first pass."

The Predators thought they were guilty of giving the Penguins too much time to make plays to break out of the zone cleanly in the first two games of the series and had to adjust. They have been happier with their forecheck in Games 3 and 4.

"It's huge," forward Filip Forsberg said. "Obviously, those guys can hurt you if you give them the time, kind of like we did in the first two games. We gave them a little too much time and they obviously took advantage right away. I think that's been better in the last two games."

Making good decisions with the puck in the neutral zone will be critical to how the Predators are able to establish their forecheck moving forward. They don't want to try to force plays through the neutral zone when they're not available to them. They're comfortable with dumping the puck into the offensive zone, establishing the forecheck, and trying to create turnovers that lead to offensive opportunities.

"We've done a pretty good job of getting pucks in behind their [defensemen] and just kind of hunting them down and either getting physical with them or forcing them into a mistake," forward Colton Sissons said. "That's something that we've been trying to do and it's been pretty successful."

Predators forwards have been able to disrupt some attempted breakout passes with their sticks, which have led to quality scoring chances. They have used their speed and size to put pressure on the Penguins' defensemen and will try to do it again in Game 5.

"I think they've been awesome all series," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We know that their biggest strength, if you say, is their forwards. We've got to make sure we get on their [defense] and turn over some pucks down low and get some easy shots, maybe some rebounds and tips and all that. I think our forwards have done a great job. They all have speed, and they all have that grit and our good hitters, so I think they've used that to their strength and our strength."

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