PITTSBURGH -- The Nashville Predators got a boost to their lineup for Game Five of the Stanley Cup final with the return of veteran forward Colin Wilson, who made his debut in the series.
Wilson has been out since suffering an unspecified injury in Game Six of the Western Conference final against Anaheim. Wilson had 12 goals and 23 assists in the regular season while playing 70 games.
Wilson, 27, led the Predators in playoff scoring the last two years, with five goals in six first-round games in 2015 aand 13 points in 14 games last year. Entering Thursday, Wilson has played 12 playoff games this season with two goals and two assists. A different injury than the one he's currently battling kept Wilson out of the entire first-round sweep of Chicago.
"It's definitely a bit of a mental game," Wilson said of his current issues. "It's not an injury where they tell you, 'You're done, here's your timeline, you're done for a month.' It's been about feeling good to where I can help the team as opposed to hurting the team. It's been an interesting dynamic and a first in my career."
Coach Peter Laviolette said he's had to balance the desire to have Wilson in the lineup with the need to make sure he was healthy enough to impact the game.
"You have to find the point of when a player is healthy enough to get back in the lineup and when they're not healthy enough to get back and be able to contribute and play at a level that is needed right now at this point in the season," said Laviolette. "So I think all those things are weighed to a point where hopefully good decisions are made."
Both of Wilson's goals in these playoffs have come on the power play. He played wing on the fourth line with rookie sensation Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk. With Wilson back in the lineup, veteran P.A. Parenteau was the Predators' healthy scratch.
"It's been the hardest thing to watch," Wilson said. "I don't know how coaches do it."
On the Pittsburgh injury front, center Nick Bonino (ankle) sat out for the third straight game after getting drilled by a P.K. Subban slapshot in Game Two.
The NHL has not had a sweep in the Cup final since 1998, and this series will mark the ninth time in the last 10 years the league's ultimate showdown will go at least six games. The only outlier in that span was Los Angeles' 2014 win over the New York Rangers that was decided on Alec Martinez's double-overtime goal in Game Five at Staples Center.
With their win Monday in Game Four, the Predators became the 13th team to even the Final at 2-2 after dropping the first two games of the series. Four of the prior 12 clubs went on to win the Cup: the 1966 and 1971 Montreal Canadiens, 2009 Penguins and 2011 Boston Bruins. Teams that win Game Five of a tied series have won the Cup 17 of the previous 24 times.
"I see those numbers and if the number is not 100 percent or guaranteed it doesn't matter to me," joked Penguins forward Bryan Rust."
The '11 Bruins won the last seven-game Cup final with a 4-0 win over Vancouver in the Canucks' Rogers Arena.
Rookies accounted for the game-winning goals in the first four games of the series, with Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel connecting in Games One and Two and Gaudreau answering for the Preds in Games Three and Four. No other final has featured four winning goals from rookies since the NHL took control of the Cup in 1926.
Sidney Crosby's breakaway goal in Game Four moved him into sole possession of 20th place on the NHL’s all-time playoff points list with 161 points in 146 career games. Crosby, who has 57 playoff goals, entered Game Five three points shy of tying Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin for 19th place. His goal snapped a tie for 20th with Gordie Howe, Mike Bossy, Al MacInnis and Bobby Smith.
Nashville defensemen Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm have all recorded at least 10 points in the playoffs, with Josi entering Game Five as the leader with 14. The Predators are just the third team in history with four 10-point defensemen in the postseason, joining the 1984 Edmonton Oilers and 1993 Los Angeles Kings.
An example of how the hockey season never truly stops: The Predators were a few hours away from Game Five of the Cup final, clearly the biggest game in their history, and what word leaked out during the day? Two of Nashville's preseason games for next season, Sept. 22 at Tampa Bay and Sept. 30 against the Lightning in Bridgestone Arena. There's not expected to be outdoor watch parties for either of those.