NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Pittsburgh center Nick Bonino was wearing a walking boot on his left foot and using crutches Friday, raising the possibility that he will not play in Nashville in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said the veteran has a lower-body injury and will be a game-time decision against the Predators on Saturday night. Team captain Sidney Crosby said everybody’s banged up at this time of year on both teams.
“I think everyone’s prepared regardless of who’s in,” Crosby said. “Everyone’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure they can play. And if not, then someone else who steps in is ready to take on that challenge.”
The Predators have been without their top center Ryan Johansen the past four games, and he won’t be back until next season after needing emergency surgery for acute compartment syndrome in his left thigh.
Bonino plays on Pittsburgh’s fourth line, but the veteran is a key penalty killer. He had a slap shot from Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban go off the inside of his left ankle in Pittsburgh’s 4-1 win Wednesday night while on the ice helping kill a big penalty. Bonino went to the locker room but returned to finish the game.
He walked into the hotel where the Penguins are staying in Nashville using crutches, though he stopped and signed a couple autographs on his way in. If Bonino can’t play, then Carl Hagelin could be an option for Sullivan after sitting out the first two games of this series.
Sullivan said the Penguins have yet to play their best yet and isn’t tipping his hand on any changes he might make even with Pittsburgh up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“We’re trying to make it decisions whether it be defense pairs or line combinations that make us the most competitive team,” Sullivan said.
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette also refused to talk about any lineup changes he might make, including at goaltender. Pekka Rinne is 7-1 at Bridgestone Arena this postseason with a 1.54 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage, but he has looked average in the first two games of the Final.
Laviolette’s other option is a 22-year-old rookie, Juuse Saros, who made his NHL postseason debut in relief Wednesday night after Rinne gave up three goals in the first 3:28 of the third period . Rinne has an ugly .778 save percentage in losing the two games in Pittsburgh.
The coach played two goalies the last time he took a team to the Stanley Cup Final, using both Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher when Laviolette’s Philadelphia Flyers lost the Cup to Chicago in six games.
“When the decision is made, it’s my decision,” Laviolette said.
Rinne told reporters he knows who is starting in net for the Predators.
“I’m going to keep it a secret, I guess,” Rinne said.
The 6-foot-5 Finn, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, has enjoyed the two-day break between games. He’s also expecting a boost from the home fans as well.
“I feel like this postseason there’s been plenty of time, a lot of games when we’ve been down and have come back from behind in the third period, and I feel like a lot of it is credit to our fans, the energy we have in the building,” Rinne said. “It’s amazing support, and we really appreciate it.”
Rinne downplayed all the questions, saying it’s been like someone died. The veteran was not going to share how he’s tried to clear his head and refocus.
“The last two games haven’t gone the way I’ve wanted them to go, and I know the stakes are high, it’s the finals and everything,” Rinne said. “But I’m still feeling confident. I feel comfortable out there. I do the same preparations as I always do before the games.”
His teammates can help him out by staying out of the penalty box. The highest-scoring team in the regular season and postseason has scored nine goals against Nashville despite being just 1 of 10 on the power play.
“They pressure a lot,” Crosby said of the Predators. “They’re trying to force mistakes. Once you make a little mistake, they’re jumping, making a play on you.”
Traipsing to the penalty box can drain the energy Nashville needs to keep pace with the Penguins.
“Cleaning up just a few mistakes, that would help,” Laviolette said.