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Preds Practice Ponderings: Oct. 6

Nick Bonino Gets Very Early Crack at Former Club in Stanley Cup Final Rematch

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Communications & Content Coordinator

Nick Bonino doesn't have to wait nearly as long as most NHLers in his position.

A two-time Stanley Cup Champion in back-to-back seasons with Pittsburgh, the veteran centerman departed the Steel City over the summer, inking a four-year deal to join the Predators.

While most players have at least a month or so to think about facing their former mates and get "that one" out of the way, Bonino will complete the task Saturday night when the Preds meet the Pens at PPG Paints Arena - and that's just fine by him.

"I'm excited for it," Bonino said after Friday's practice in Pittsburgh. "I have a lot of friends over there, and it's always fun to try and beat them. I'm not dreading it; it should be a fun night. I'm glad it's over early, there's no buildup for it; it's the second game of the year for us and we've just got to go in and play hockey."

After missing the entire preseason schedule while recovering from offseason surgery, Bonino made his Predators debut during their 4-3 loss at Boston on Thursday, registering two shots in roughly 16 minutes of ice time. Bonino admitted his legs felt "heavier" than usual skating against the Bruins - understandable - considering he last appeared in game action at the end of May.

But come Saturday night, not only should Bonino's timing and strength be closer to 100 percent, there's also that added motivation considering who's on the other side.

"I'd like to get in Phil's face a bit," Bonino said wryly, referring to former Penguins teammate Phil Kessel. "But they're a skilled, fast team that we'll have our hands full with, whoever is out there. But I'm excited to play them. Maybe I can have a tip or two for the guys to beat them, but I just want to get the win."

Bonino's experience over the past few months has been different than anyone else who will be in the lineup tomorrow - winning the Cup on one side, then joining the opposition with the desire to become a champion in three consecutive seasons. There's a long way to go for that to happen, so for now, an early-season contest in Western Pennsylvania is the focus, with a bit more on the line than usual.

"The emotions were just as high for [the Predators after the Final] and it's something I don't talk about too much because it's still a pretty emotional, raw feeling," Bonino said. "I'm appreciative of how welcoming they've been, and I'd like nothing more than to come back here with them and beat Pittsburgh."

The Rematch:

The drive to the rink, the views of the city - all the memories of the Stanley Cup Final, good and bad - came rushing back on Friday morning.

The Predators, in Pittsburgh for the first time since Game 5 last June, headed to PPG Paints Arena to prepare for a Saturday night date with a Penguins team that got the best of them in the most recent meeting.

A rematch of this significance - although the final result won't mean nearly as much as it did a few months ago - still comes with plenty of meaning for a Preds squad that not only wants their first win of the new season, but also to get it in a building that hasn't been kind to them in recent years.

"It is nice to have a chance to go back there right away at the beginning of the season," goaltender Pekka Rinne said of facing the Penguins. "It was unbelievable to be in the Final, and it was emotional when we lost it, so it is nice to have an opportunity right away to play against them."

There will be 20 slightly different approaches taken by those who will be in the lineup against the Penguins, but no matter how far back in the minds of each player one may have to delve, there is certainly something there.

"That was the biggest stage that a lot of us had ever been on," forward Craig Smith said of the Final. "We always talk about moving forward, but if you look back in that sense, that was a team that was in the way of our ultimate goal. We fell short, so coming back here, it's a big game. It definitely means something in the back of your mind, but it's still a game. You have to go out and execute, put the past behind you, try to move forward and make the best of it."

When the puck drops tomorrow, collecting two points is the clear focus. And just in case the Predators needed any additional motivation to try and acquire that victory, all they have to do is look at the logo on the other side.

"I think you have all those things, those memories in your head," Rinne said. "I'm sure I'll think about them before the game, but still, it is huge game right now for us. We are down 0-1 this season, and so we've got to get back on track."

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