The Pittsburgh Penguins played a near-perfect game at home in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, and that pivotal victory has put them within reach of their second consecutive NHL championship.
The Stanley Cup will be on hand at Bridgestone Arena Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET for the NBC broadcast, and the Penguins will be able hoist that trophy and skate around with it if they can come close to matching what they did in their 6-0 victory over the Nashville Predators Thursday.
Sidney Crosby was on top of his game, recording three assists, and he has come through in so many big matches throughout his career that it's difficult to see Nashville stopping him with the Stanley Cup on the line.
However, the Predators have not been intimidated by the Penguins, and they responded to an 0-2 start in the series with consecutive wins in Games 3 and 4 at home to tie things at 2-2. Additionally, the Predators are 9-1 at home during the postseason.
It seems reasonable to expect Nashville to bounce back from their struggles in Game 5. Whether it leads to a win and forces Game 7 is another story.
The inability to match Pittsburgh's effort was a key topic of discussion in the Nashville locker room a day after the Game 5 loss.
"We all felt ready to go, and I think they just came out with a little bit more urgency, a little bit more fire," Preds defenseman Yannick Weber said, per Tom Gulitti of NHL.com. "So they just kind of took our mindset that we usually have and did to us what we try to do to them. From the first shift on, it felt like they had a step on us. They wanted it more, and their best players were playing well."
The Predators have had more speed and quickness than the Penguins in the two games in Nashville, but that was not the case in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.
The Preds will need to put their playmaking skills with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson on display and James Neal's ability to put the puck in the net.
They also need a big effort from goalie Pekka Rinne, who has been remarkably up-and-down in the series. He has looked helpless while playing in Pittsburgh but has been razor-sharp at the raucous Bridgestone Arena.
He is going to have to figure out how to play in Pittsburgh if the Predators are going to win the Stanley Cup, but first he has to get the job done in Game 6.
The Penguins are in a familiar position, and they will be hoping to execute on the road the way they did last year. Head coach Mike Sullivan's team took a 3-2 lead to the San Jose Sharks' SAP Center last year for Game 6, and the Penguins earned the Stanley Cup.
The coach knows his team has been able to overcome adversity during this year's playoff run.
"I think it says a lot about the people that we have," Sullivan said, per Wes Crosby of NHL.com. "I really believe this group of players is a unique group of players. They have a unique chemistry. They really care about one another. They're a close-knit group. They play hard for one another, and they have an appetite to win."
The Predators have earned the respect of the handicappers. Even though they trail in the series, they are minus-136 favorites to win Game 6, according to OddsShark, so those backing Nashville will have to stake $136 to win $100. The Penguins are plus-123 underdogs.
The home team has won the first five games of the Stanley Cup Final, and none of the games have been close. That seems likely to change here because the Penguins can taste the Stanley Cup, and it's hard to conceive this game will get away from them.
The Predators are not intimidated, and their home crowd has gone above and beyond expectations with its support.
This should be a classic Stanley Cup Final game, and goals are likely to be at a premium. Look for the Preds' desperation to trump the Penguins' Stanley Cup hunger. Nashville will win Game 6 at home and force a seventh game in Pittsburgh.