It escalated innocently enough with schoolyard-level banter about bad breath.

The Stanley Cup Final previously featured a storyline involving Predators defenseman P.K. Subban and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby that centered around Subban’s apparent lack of oral hygiene.

Call it an alternative version of “tonsil hockey,” which landed Subban a partnership with a popular mouthwash brand.

“He likes the attention,” Crosby said recently. “If he wants to make stuff up, what can I do?”

Forget about that contrived exchange, though. What actually was said between the two at the conclusion of Game 3, captured by Showtime’s “All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup” program, had nothing to do with halitosis and is unprintable.

Instead, rewind to the Predators’ locker room after the team’s Game 2 loss for the truest representation of this bubbling personal rivalry.

“Every time he’s on the ice, I’m going to be in his face,” Subban said of Crosby that night. “And he’s not going to like it.”

The face time Subban received Thursday wasn’t what he had in mind. He and Crosby grappled behind the Penguins’ net during the first period of Game 5, with Crosby repeatedly grinding his right fist into the side of Subban’s prone head. Crosby likened Subban’s takedown to “some UFC move.” Subban dismissed the impromptu wrestling match as “just hockey.”

A healthy dislike has sprouted between Nashville and Pittsburgh, which also extends to individual feuds. None is more influential than Subban vs. Crosby because of their superstardom and importance to their respective teams.

In Game 5, Crosby and the Penguins saddled the Predators with their most lopsided loss in franchise postseason history. It falls on Subban and others to stop the Pens from securing the Stanley Cup in Game 6 on Sunday in Nashville.

“I think P.K. has played against some pretty tough players in the playoffs to get to this point,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “Whether it’s [Penguins center Evgeni] Malkin’s line or Crosby’s line, he’s still faced with big challenges. I think he’s done a really good job.”

Crosby and Subban haven’t shared much ice time at even strength in the series, directly opposing each other for less than 22 minutes. They’ve crammed any mutual hostility into that limited period, which has been fairly even in regard to pace of play.

Neither Subban nor Crosby spoke to reporters Friday.

Asked Thursday if his on-ice beef with Crosby had become personal, Subban didn’t escalate.

“It’s just hockey, man,” he said.

Follow me on Twitter @AdamVingan.

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