Penguins ready for fireworks in Round 2 vs. Preds

NHL Hockey

The Penguins will be looking for a sweep of their home-and-home series with the Nashville Predators on Saturday when the teams meet up at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins won for the eighth time in 10 games in Friday’s opener of the two-game, two-night, two-city series, beating the host Preds 5-2.

That was despite taking a morning flight to Nashville, before the game-day skate, because of the NHL’s rules governing the holiday break.

“I think everybody takes care of their body during the break,” Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola, who had a goal and an assist Friday, told AT&T Sportsnet following the game.

Despite being off since last Saturday, the Penguins showed no signs of rust — although they showed some Bryan Rust, who was another of five goal-scorers in a game where they took a 3-1 lead in the first period.

“Especially coming out of the break, that’s huge just to be able to jump on a team early, get that lead and build momentum,” Rust said.

Nashville had its two-game winning streak ended. In addition, defenseman and leading scorer Roman Josi had his five-game goal streak (seven goals total) snapped, although he had an assist.

“I think there are things that we can talk about going into (Saturday), both offensively and defensively,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said following the game.

Calle Jarnkrok focused on the latter. He normally plays forward but was pressed into some duty on defense Friday for Nashville.

“It feels like we’ve got to be better defensively,” Jarnkrok told Fox Sports Tennessee.

The Predators played most of Friday’s game with five (bona fide) defensemen after Dan Hamhuis left at 13:11 of the first period when he took a puck to the face. Also possibly out for Saturday is center Colton Sissons, who got an unspecified lower-body injury Friday.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, might get one of its five injured regulars back Saturday as winger Patric Hornqvist, a former Predators player who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal against them in 2017, was a full participant in the Friday morning skate. Coach Mike Sullivan said Hornqvist is “close” to being able to play.

The goaltending matchup Saturday is unclear. Going into the back-to-back games, it seemed logical that Matt Murray would start for Pittsburgh and Juuse Saros for Nashville after their counterparts started Friday.

Murray still seems likely, but Saros ended up playing 42:22 Friday in relief after Pekka Rinne got pulled. Rinne gave up three goals on six shots.

Rinne is fresher, but he not only struggled Friday but also fell to 3-6-3 in his career against Pittsburgh. He also struggled at times when Nashville lost to the Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup final.

There could be some carryover tension Saturday, as well. Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm engaged Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, with both earning roughing penalties plus a game misconduct for Ekholm, while Rust and the Predators’ Matt Irwin also got roughing penalties. All of it came at 8:39 of the third with the Penguins holding a 5-1 lead.

“They’re a team that’s got a lot of pride, and they weren’t happy with the way things went in their own building,” Rust said. “So it should be a fun one (Saturday).”

–Field Level Media

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