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Stanley Cup notebook: Rinne ready for another bounceback game in goal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators say they've completely washed away the stench from Game Five of the Stanley Cup final, Thursday's 6-0 loss in Pittsburgh. And that goes double for goaltender Pekka Rinne, who continues to put up one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde acts in playoff history.

Rinne was pulled for the second time in three games in Pittsburgh after giving up three goals in the first period. He has a hideous 5.41 goals-against average in PPG Paints Arena during the final, coupled by an equally galling .756 save percentage. In the two games at Bridgestone Arena, however, Rinne is at 1.01 and .962. He stopped 50 of 52 shots in Games Three and Four.

"In playoffs, your mindset is different than the regular season," Rinne insisted Saturday. "A lot of times in regular season, things are not going your way one night and you take that with you and worry about it. In playoffs, your backs are against the wall and this is our opportunity. You do everything in your power to prepare for this one."

Rinne said there's no rhyme or reason to why his play has dropped off so dramatically on the road in this series, adding to his frustration and the questions he's asked himself.

"You have those thoughts," he said. "Why pucks are getting deflected in off our guys, or something like that. You try to work so hard. When bounces aren’t going your way, you have second thoughts in your head. But that’s life.”

"He's the same every day. He works hard every day," said coach Peter Laviolette. "His habits seem to be the same. His demeanor seems the same to me. We've got to do a better job in front of him. There's so many things you look at and you go back and you watch the game and the way it was played, and we made mistakes in front of him."

Rinne talks to Finnish reporters Saturday (Mike Harrington/Buffalo News).

Rinne admitted he was angry after the first period Thursday but more at the situation in general and not at his teammates or Laviolette for putting in rookie Juuse Saros.

"You're playing in the finals, on the biggest stage of your career and you're not happy obviously," Rinne said. "I never take it personally. It's not about me. It's all about us. I try not to take it personally. The reasoning behind it, I always believe it's to wake up the team. But if I'm not getting the job done, it's better to put the other guy in. He's a great young goalie."

Mike Harrington: Rinne must recapture his game for Predators to have any chance

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Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who left with an unspecified injury after playing lesss than 11 minutes in Game Five, was one of four Preds who did not take part in Saturday's optional practice. Fellow blueliners P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm and winger James Neal also did not participate.

"He's a huge part of our defense," defense partner Roman Josi said of Ellis, who was averging more than 24 minutes in the first four games. "He's been unbelievable in these playoffs. His hockey sense is really good. He makes the right plays."

Laviolette has declined to address injury/lineup questions during this series so Ellis' status won't be determined until Sunday. French network TVA Sports said Ellis still has a decent chance to play in the game.

If he can't go, he would likely be replaced by 26-year-old Anthony Bitetto, who played 29 games in the regular season but has yet to see action in this postseason. Bitetto, however, did play in all 14 playoff games for Nashville last season.

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Predators winger James Neal on the Stanley Cup being in the building for a potential Pittsburgh clincher: "Definitely keep it in the box. But I think we’re just more focused on ourselves, focused on having a good start to the game, focused on being consistent with our game, so it’s not something that we’re too worried about. It’s a do or die situation for us. We need to have our best."

The Predators are 9-1 at home and have won 13 of their last 14 games here.

"I know our guys don't sit in there and wonder how we're going to do this," Laviolette said. "I think we're an extremely confident group and we've had a lot of success. ... We've found a certain way to play the game with a certain identity and when we do that, usually the wins follow."

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Country superstar Luke Bryan will open the NBC and CBC broadcasts of Game Six with a live song from the rooftop of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the iconic purple building on Broadway just across the street from Bridgestone Arena. There is no indication if that means he will be singing the Star-Spangled Banner inside the building prior to the game. The anthem singer has remained a closely-guarded secret during the playoffs as multiple big-name country stars have done the honor.

The city is bursting at the seams this weekend with CMAFest, the Country Music Association's annual festival, taking place downtown. Reports have more than 100,000 people in town and more than 60,000 are attending nightly concerts in Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

Mike Harrington: Nastiness quotient rising as Cup final nears its conclusion

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