The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Nashville Predators meet in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET) at PPG Paints Arena. Here are five keys to this huge game, with the series tied 2-2.
Rinne’s return to form is the main reason why this series is even at two. After a pair of disastrous performances in Pittsburgh, he rebounded at home and played up to the MVP status that his teammates have handed him all season long. Despite some calls for Mike Sullivan to go back to Marc-Andre Fleury, Murray will remain in net for the Penguins in Game 5. He’s been Sullivan’s guy all year, so it’s no shock that there won’t be a change this late in the series.
The even strength save percentages haven’t been great this series, with Murray posting a .925 and Rinne recording a .888 for Nashville. There have been 28 power play opportunities through five games, and with it now late in the series, those chances will be at a premium, which means 5-on-5 play will be vital.
Will Hornqvist and Bonino play?
After missing most of the Eastern Conference Final, Patric Hornqvist has played in all four Cup games. But it’s clear he’s still getting over an upper-body injury, which has caused him to see his minutes fall in the Final. He skated on Thursday and will be a game-time decision, but how effective will he be? He’s yet to record a point since his Game 7 goal against the Washington Capitals in Round 2.
As for Bonino, he hasn’t played since Game 2 when he blocked a P.K. Subban shot. He’s still in a walking boot and didn’t participate in the morning skate. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him test his foot out during warm-ups before Game 5.
Prevent Pittsburgh’s quick goal barrage
In both Games 1 and 2, a pair of short spans saw the Penguins beat Rinne three times, changing the tone of each game. A few bad bounces and defensive breakdowns open the doors and hurt the Predators. They were able to limit Pittsburgh’s offense to a goal in each of the following two games in Nashville as Peter Laviolette was able to get his preferred matchups out on the ice.
But with the offensive threats that the Penguins can throw over the boards each shift, the danger is always there for the Predators. They’ll need the Rinne from Games 3 and 4 to show up again.
Importance of Game 5
Historically, winning Game 5 has meant good things for teams in their hopes for winning the Cup. According to the NHL, when the Final is even at two, the team that has taken Game 5 has gone on to win the series 71 percent of the time since they went to a best-of-7 format (17 of 24 series).
On the flip side, in four of the last eight Finals that have gone 2-2, the 2001 Avalanche, 2004 Lightning, 2009 Penguins and 2011 Bruins have all lost Game 5 but gone on to lift the Cup.
Geno loves home, sweet home
The Penguins love playing at home, as shown by their 9-3 record in Pittsburgh this postseason. Evgeni Malkin is also a big fan of home ice as you can tell by looking at his stat line.
This postseason, Malkin has six goals and 17 points in 12 home games. On the road, he’s scored three times and recorded nine points in 11 games. He scored in Games 1 and 2 as the Penguins took the opening two games of the Final. It’s a safe bet he finds a way to beat Rinne again tonight.
– – – – – – –
MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY: