NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There's only one former member of the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup final, and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel seems to be on the outside looking in on the Pittsburgh Penguins' top six after being felled by a concussion in Game Four of the Eastern Conference final against Ottawa.
Ruhwedel is cleared now but has not played since his injury and it will probably take an ailment from somebody on the Penguins' blueline to get him back in the lineup. He was a healthy scratch against for Game Three against the Nashville Predators in Bridgestone Arena.
Still, after not getting much of a chance with the Sabres the last two years, Ruhwedel is thrilled with the way the Penguins gave him looks when injuries struck their defense corps.
"It's been surreal," Ruhwedel said. "Coming up in December-January was nice but actually staying and playing a good number of games is really cool. Then you're talking playoffs and that's a whole other battle. Even with a few injuries, it's good to be ready if my name gets called."
The Penguins have been without start blueliner Kris Letang for the entire playoffs after neck surgery. Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley have both missed four games this postseason with injuries as well.
Ruhwedel played 28 games this year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, with four goals and 12 assists. He played 34 games with the Penguins, with two goals, eight assists and a plus-9 rating. He does not have a point in six playoff appearances and played a high of 21 minutes, 25 seconds in the Penguins' 1-0 win over Ottawa that evened the East final at a game apiece.
Ruhwedel said it's been quite an education to be in the locker room and play with a playoff-tested team like the Penguins.
"It helps a lot the way they compose themselves around the locker room," he said. "They're all even-keeled and not struck by the lights and the noise. It really helps me. It's one thing to play against guys like them. It's a whole other thing to play with them. It's something special to play with guys like that on a regular basis. We're talking Tier I players and it's cool to be on the ice with them."
Ruhwedel, a San Diego native, was signed as a college free agent in the spring of 2013 by former Sabres GM Darcy Regier but never cracked the Buffalo lineup with any regularity. He played 178 games in Rochester the last three seasons, putting up back-to-back 10-goal campaigns, but only saw action in 33 NHL games.
Under GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma, Ruhwedel never got much of a look. He played just four NHL games in 2014-15, and only one in 2015-16, when the Sabres had no injuries on defense the entire season. He signed a one-year, two-way deal with Pittsburgh last summer for $575,000.
"After my three years-plus, we both just determined there wasn't going to be a fit there," Ruhwedel said of his time with the Sabres. "Even if an offer did come on the table, my agent and I had decided we were going to try the open maarket. It's been the right call with a Class A organization this far and still going. Definitely a great choice for me."
Ruhwedel said Murray's firing took him by surprise but said he left his time in Wilkes-Barre impressed with new Sabres boss Jason Botterill.
"I was a little shocked because he got re-signed before last season," Ruhwedel said, referring to Murray's ill-fated contract extension from owner Terry Pegula. "But Buffalo has had some troubles lately. You look at the players he put together and it's a quality team that didn't click, be it injuries or whatever. It's just unfortunate they haven't had the success they've been hoping for. But I think Botterill can really spark a turn for them."
Penguins center Nick Bonino took a P.K. Subban howitzer to the ankle in Game Two and was seen here Friday in a walking boot. With Bonino out, Carl Hagelin went back in the lineup after being a scratch the first two games. Hagelin has just one goal in 11 playoff games this year.
"He'll bring what he always brings to our team," Pens coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's got tons of speed, he's a real good penalty killer. He forces turnovers all over the ice because of his speed and puck pursuit. He's been a big part of this team, helped us win a lot of games."
The Predators needed more speed in their lineup to counter the Penguins so they inserted veteran P.A. Parenteau and Harry Zolnierczyk into the lineup in place of overmatched pluggers Cody McLeod and Vernon Fiddler.
Tennessee becomes the 15th state to serve as a Stanley Cup final venue since the NHL was founded in 1917, joining California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.
Games have also have been played in the District of Columbia and four Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec).