By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The Pittsburgh Penguins are in control of the Stanley Cup Final but are aware of the challenge that awaits when the series shifts to Nashville where the Predators have been near perfect during the NHL playoffs.
The Predators’ Bridgestone Arena is one of the NHL’s loudest venues and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said his team fully expects a raucous crowd to help Nashville get off to a flying start in Saturday’s pivotal Game Three.
“This time of year you are going to get that in any building but they have played really well there and fed off their crowd so our start is going to be important,” Crosby told reporters on Friday.
Pittsburgh lead the NHL’s best-of-seven championship 2-0 but will be put the test in the Music City on Saturday where the Predators have lost just once in eight postseason games this year.
Crosby, the second-leading scorer in the 2017 postseason with 22 points, said even though his Penguins are holding a comfortable series lead they cannot get complacent.
“Our desperation level has got to be there from the start,” said Crosby. “We’re focused on just making sure that we can set the tone as best we can and that has been our focus on the road for a long time, especially in the playoffs, and we’ll have to approach it the same way going there.”
While Pittsburgh, who have five road wins in nine playoff games, are two wins shy of repeating as Stanley Cup champions, they have been largely outplayed in the Final but have managed to take advantage of some brief defensive lapses by the Predators.
The Penguins scored three goals in a four-minute flurry late in the first period of Game One for a 3-0 lead before hanging on for a 5-3 victory. Two nights later they used a three-minute stretch early in the third to blow open a tight game.
Crosby said the Predators, who entered the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Western Conference, are everything the Penguins expected.
“They’re fast, their (defense) are really good at joining the play, creating offense and I think their speed kind of allows them to check and be on pucks quick so that’s what we expected to see,” said Crosby.
(Editing by Gene Cherry)