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Stanley Cup Media Day Notebook

Posted: 10:47 PM, May 28, 2017
Updated: 2017-05-29 00:11:08-04
Stanley Cup Media Day Notebook
Stanley Cup Media Day Notebook
Stanley Cup Media Day Notebook

"Drive for Five". That was the headline to the special Stanley Cup Final section in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday, a reference to the Penguins' quest for a fifth Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh knows this stage well. Game one (Monday 7 p.m.) will mark its fourth Final appearance in the past decade.

But despite the fact this will be the Predators first ever appearance in the Cup Final, they believe they belong.

"Most of their guys won it last year and know what's coming at them," Predators Defenseman Yannick Weber said Sunday. "But we know that if we play our game and keep doing the things that got us here we can find success."

So while the talk for much of Sunday was about the Penguins stars and the opportunity for them to make history by becoming the first team to repeat as  champions since the Red Wings in 1997-98, the Preds feel like this is their stage, too.

They've taken no shortcuts on the road here. They swept the Stanley Cup favorite Blackhawks in round one, beat the hottest team over the second half of the season in the Blues in round two and knocked out the Pacific Division champion Ducks.

Now to win their first ever Stanley Cup, the Predators will have to beat the defending champs.

"This is probably the biggest challenge we've had to face all year in this series," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "But I feel good about our group and we're confident in our team and like this matchup."

FISHER, SMITH BACK

There was good news on the injury front for Nashville Sunday as both injured captain Mike Fisher and Craig Smith went through the team's practice and are expected to play in game one.

Fisher was knocked out of game four against the Ducks and missed the final two games of the Western Conference Final, but has skated with the team all week and been cleared by doctors.

Fisher's return will be big for a Predators team that is already without top line center Ryan Johansen for the rest of the playoffs following leg surgery. The Captain gives the Preds another physical, defensive forward to try to make life difficult on Penguins' stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Smith would be returning to the lineup for the first time since game six against the Blues and just the second time since he suffered a lower body injury in game three of the Chicago series.

If he can shake off the rust, he brings extra speed to the Preds' lineup against the potent Pens.

FAMILIAR FACES NOW FOES

Much has been made of Predators forward James Neal's return to Pittsburgh for the Stanley Cup Final, but one of the guys he was traded for is also having a bit of a surreal week facing his former team on hockey's biggest stage.

Patric Hornqvist, who is a gametime decision  (upper body injury) for game one, was the final pick of the NHL Draft in 2005 by the Predators and played for the team for six seasons, scoring 106 goals before the trade.

"It's a bit different, yeah," Hornqvist said Sunday. "Nashville drafted me and I spent a lot of good years, so I have lots good about Nashville."

Hornqvist isn't the only former Predator on the Penguins. Matt Cullen played center in Nashville for two seasons before joining the Penguins as a free agent before their Stanley Cup run a year ago.

At age 40, Cullen is by far the oldest player in the Final, but has seemed to get a late career boost in the Iron City.

"At this point in my career, I know it's important to have a good fit," Cullen said. "This is a perfect fit for me."

Hornqvist, a former roommate of Pekka Rinne in Nashville, has been an integral part of the Penguins' success. The 30-year-old forward has a penchant for creating traffic and even contact in front of the net, scoring 47 goals for the Pens since the trade.

"I knew I was playing with Sidney and Geno, I'd never had centers like that in my life. You have to raise your level," Hornqvist said. "You want the chance to play with players like that, and when you get the chance, you take it."