This NHL post-season has been nothing short of intriguing. We have seen a lot of the same mixed in with some new and surprising results as well. As the chase for the most hallowed trophy in American sports comes to its pinnacle, we are presented with a matchup that very few would have predicted. When the playoffs began back in early April, the favorites to reach the final and win the Cup were familiar and regular names. The Blackhawks, Penguins and Blues sat atop of the list with the best odds to hoist the Cup. As is true with any sport though, there are many reasons to play the games and the biggest is that no one truly ever knows what will happen. We saw the dynasty of the Blackhawks absolutely take it on the chin in round one bowing out without much of a fight. We saw an often over-matched Ottawa Senators team continuously shock the hockey world and push the Pens to a game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. But the stage is finally set. Pittsburgh and Nashville. Penguins and Predators. An unlikely matchup between perennial contender from a big NHL market and an upstart budding franchise who finally got over the hump to the Cup Final. It looks to be a great series, entertaining even for those without a horse in the race.
Let’s start with the familiar. The Penguins are back in the finals with an opportunity to repeat as NHL Champs. This would be the first back-to-back Cup winning team since the ’97 and ’98 Red Wings (and the first to repeat in the salary cap era). The team has many of the same faces we have come know over the last several years. Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fluery and Sydney Crosby are still in the fold on this roster of star power. Having brought up Fluery, it is important to note that yet again, the Penguins have gone through the playoffs without a clear and decided number one net-minder. Murray entered as the guy but was hurt early on giving way for Fluery, who at times was as dominant as ever. Murray is back in the crease entering the Cup Finals. Whoever finds themselves in between the pipes for the Pens will loom large as their defense has taken big hits from the injury bug and is still without Kris Letang. Where Pittsburgh may lack on the back end, they boast some of the best offensively skilled players in the league. Malkin, Crosby, Kessel and company will have to be at the top of their game as they matchup with one of the best defensive groups the NHL has to offer.
The Predators entered the playoffs as the 16th seed. This would make hoisting the cup extremely important for a couple reasons. They would become the first ever 16 seed to win the Cup and it would also be the first championship in franchise history. That is quite a way to burst on to the national scene if you ask me. How have they done it? Pekka Rinne. Rinne has been the best goaltender all playoffs long. Thus far he has posted a 12-4 record to go along with a save percentage over 94%. Pair the stellar play of Rinne with the aforementioned defensive prowess of the Predators and it becomes a little more clear how they stymied the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks on their way to the brink of a Stanley Cup victory. All this talk about the defense may lead to one thinking the Predators have no offense at all. This is not the case however. The trio (Forsberg, Arviddson, Johansen) turned duo (Forsberg, Arviddson) will no question miss Johansen as he recovers from the thigh injury suffered last round. The remaining 2 forwards on that line however have proven to be highlight reel capable and can cause problems from the Pens back end guys. Mike Fisher is priming himself to return for the finals and the Predators have made it a habit to get huge performances from otherwise unlikely heroes (most recently Colton Sissons Conference Finals hatty). This depth is something that will need to play a pivotal role for the Preds to overcome the star power they lack compared to the Penguins.
Star power and the experience to go with it gives this advantage to the Penguins.
P.K. Subban, Roma Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and company have a significant advantage over the injury-laden Pens defensive group.
This one comes down to a dynamic due of Fluery and Murray against the wall of Rinne. I lean towards the hottest goalie in the game and go with Rinne.
Two of the best go head to head here. I give advantage to the Penguins as their coach has done nothing but win since taking over mid season last year en-route to the 2016 championship.
Series Prediction: Predators in 7
Written by: AJ