Stanley Cup Final
Predators in 6
The 2017 Stanley Cup Final will feature a battle of contrasts as the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins seek their fifth dance with Lord Stanley, while the Nashville Predators in their 19th season are making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. The Predators are the first team from the recent NHL expansion wave to reach the final, as the four teams added between 1998-2000 have not had much success, with two of the four franchises never even winning a playoff series. The Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final led by the goaltending of Pekka Rinne and a terrific defense, while the Penguins offense has been their driving force with Evgani Malkin leading all scorers in the postseason.
The Penguins, who had the second-best record in the NHL started the playoffs by taking out the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games come into the Stanley Cup Final after two seven game wars with the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators. The Penguins needed a double overtime goal from Chris Kunitz to survive Game 7 at home in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Predators meanwhile after being the last team in the playoffs have been the big surprise of the postseason. After high expectations to start the season, Nashville finally found their game when it mattered most, stunning the Chicago Blackhawks the top seed in the Western Conference with a sweep in the opening round. Since then the Predators have won a pair of six game series against the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks to reach hockey’s grandest stage.
The Penguins have an overwhelming edge on offense, with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel all capable of scoring a big goal. However, at times it has been the Penguins unsung heroes that have proven to be the difference as Jake Guentzel has a team best nine tallies in the playoffs, with Malkin, Crosby and Kessel each having seven. The Penguins who have been without Kris Letang, do have some vulnerabilities on defense, as Matt Murray has regained the starting position in goal, after losing it to Marc-Andre Fleury at the start of the playoffs. Both goalies have been solid for the most part, with one likely to be on his way to Vegas following the postseason, with the coming expansion draft.
The Predators meanwhile have a defensive edge as they have ridden the back of a hot goalie to get to the Stanley Cup Final, as Pekka Rinne has been nearly flawless throughout the playoffs, with a 1.70 Goals Against Average and a .941 save percentage. Filip Forsberg has been the Predators leader on offense with eight goals and seven assists. However, the loss of Ryan Johanssen could come back to haunt them in the final, as it will leave Nashville a bit thin at the center position, also giving the Penguins a significant advantage on faceoffs. That disadvantage can be overcome with the tremendous play of the Predators blueliners, as Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Roman Josi all have been key to Nashville’s success.
The Penguins and Predators split a pair of games with each team winning on their home ice. The Predators have developed a solid home ice advantage, winning seven of eight in the postseason at Bridgestone Arena. The fans of Nashville with its symbiotic relationship with the country music industry have created an atmosphere that has become impossible for visiting teams to handle. Combined with the Predators physical approach, Smashville has taken the NHL by storm this postseason. The Predators have also been able to win some key games on the road, including a pair of shutout wins in Chicago and a key Game 5 win in Anaheim. The Penguins have been through two wars can they survive another, that is because one way or another this looks to be a long series that will go six or seven games. I like the Predators defense against the Penguins offense and I have seen enough postseasons in which the hot goalie has carried a team to the cup. With the Penguins a bit more weary, the Predators physical play will eventually wear them down, and set up the upset as the Predators go on a Tennessee Waltz with Lord Stanley in six games.