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Stanley Cup Final

Switch to speed paying off for Predators in Cup Final

Decision to use faster forwards gives Nashville chance to even series against Penguins by winning Game 4

by Robby Stanley / NHL.com Correspondent

NASHVILLE -- The Nashville Predators hope their switch to speed will get them even with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette chose to go with more speed up front in Game 3 on Saturday, replacing forwards Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler with Harry Zolnierczyk and PA Parenteau and moving Frederick Gaudreau between the newcomers as the fourth-line center. The switch keyed a 5-1 victory against the Penguins at Bridgestone Arena.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Predators series coverage | Analysis: Predators won more battles in Game 3]

 

After losing the first two games in Pittsburgh, Nashville has a chance to even the best-of-7 series by winning Game 4 at home on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The lineup changes for Game 3 gave Nashville a faster, more balanced attack. Zolnierczyk's speed forced Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz to take a holding penalty that led to Roman Josi's game-tying power-play goal at 5:51 of the second period.

"When [Zolnierczyk] comes in the lineup, he brings speed, he brings energy, he brings physicality," Laviolette said after Game 3. "That was a perfect example of it. He put the puck to an area, tried to get a step on the guy and forced him to take a penalty."

Video: Mike Johnson reacts to Nashville's Game 3 win

It was the first time Zolnierczyk, Gaudreau and Parenteau were on the same line together in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their speed gave the Penguins some trouble.

"It shows the depth of the lineup, I would say," Gaudreau said. "Every player here is good, and most importantly, every player fits in the locker room. I would say everybody are great people so it's fun to play here."

The Predators have been forced to give some of their lesser forwards bigger roles because of playoff-ending injuries to Ryan Johansen (acute compartment syndrome) and Kevin Fiala (fractured left femur). Players like Zolnierczyk and Parenteau have come in and out of the lineup during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have been able to stay ready.

"Some of the roles have dramatically increased from what they might have been maybe two months ago," Laviolette said. "We're in a sink-or-swim situation. As much as we'd like to have [Johansen] in there and [Fiala] in there, with their longer-term injuries, that's not going to happen.

"There are only two choices, and that's to step up or probably exit. So our guys have done an amazing job. As with Pittsburgh, I'm sure they're banged up as well. And sitting here playing a violin; I think it's part of the playoffs, the injuries and the war that you have to go through for two months in order to get to the end. I think our guys have done a really good job of just stepping up."

Johansen's injury late in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks resulted in Gaudreau's insertion into the lineup, and he has made the most of his opportunity. Gaudreau spent the majority of the season with Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, where he had 48 points (25 goals, 23 assists) in 66 games. He scored his second goal of the Final on Saturday after not scoring in nine regular-season games with the Predators.

"If anybody knew him from the way he played in Milwaukee, he's done the same here," Zolnierczyk said. "He plays with the exact same confidence, and that's not an easy thing to do, sometimes, to be a go-to guy down in the minors and come up and not have power-play [time] and not have a penalty-kill shift but to still be able to contribute and dominate 5-on-5. I think he's done a great job, and he's a tremendous hockey player. He'll be around for a long time."

Gaudreau began the series on the wing, but his ability to play center allowed Laviolette to move Zolnierczyk and Parenteau into the lineup and take out Fiddler, 37.

It's been quite a journey for Gaudreau, who was undrafted and played in 14 games in the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones two seasons ago. He's now scoring goals in the Stanley Cup Final.

"His hockey sense was just fabulous, and that's what we look for in so many of our players," Predators assistant general manager Paul Fenton said after Game 1. "Eventually if you put the work in, especially with his tools, you'll get an opportunity. It's one of those success stories you're really happy to be a part of."

Video: Breaking down Gaudreau's go-ahead goal

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