By Steve Samek
Here we go. From 16 teams, down to two in the NHL playoffs. It’s the surprise Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Penguins looking to go back to back in winning Stanley Cups, while the Predators look for their first.
Nashville stunned Chicago in round one, before beating St. Louis and Anaheim. Pittsburgh run to the cup went through Columbus, Washington and Ottawa.
This could be the most interring series yet. During the season, the Pens and Preds have split their two games. The home team took the victory in each game. Nashville outscored Pittsburgh seven five in those two meetings. https://www.nhl.com/predators/news/instant-analysis-nashville-predators-face-defending-champs-in-final/c-289616482
Though offense may be hard to come by in this series. Nashville is the top team in goals against average in the playoffs with a 1.81 mark. Having only surrendered 29 goals. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/289652432/2550×3300/cut.png.
Big reason for this is goaltender Pekka Rinne. Rinne has the top playoff marks for save percentage with .941 and wins with 12. Combine that with a 1.70 GAA and you have a brick wall. http://www.nhl.com/stats/leaders?
The goalie tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray should also make it difficult for Nashville to score. Fleury has a 2.56 gaa and a .924 save percentage while picking up nine wins. http://www.nhl.com/stats/leaders? Both Fleury and Rinne have posted two shutouts during the playoffs.
Though Rinne will be tested. The Penguins lead in goals per game with 3.05. This is highlighted by Jake Geuntzal’s nine playoff tallies. Evgeni Malkin is the playoffs leading scorer by points with 24. http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/19471551/2017-stanley-cup-ranking-all-stanley-cup-finals-players. Back him up with ESPN ranked number one player in this series Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel and there is no shortage of threats to light the lamp. http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/19471551/2017-stanley-cup-ranking-all-stanley-cup-finals-players
Nashville will look to Filip Forsberg to score with his team best eight goals and 15 points during the playoffs.
Though it may be close in goaltending it isn’t close in experience. The Penguins boast 156 games of Stanley Cup Experience, with 19 goals scored and 24 winners of the Stanley Cup. The Predators have no Stanley Cup winners, 2 goals scored and a mere five games played in the cup. Note that doesn’t include the injured Chris Letang for Pittsburgh. http://www.nhl.com/stats/.
This is the third time the Penguins have played in back to bac finals. The first in 1991 and 1992 in which they won both. Then in 2008 and 2009 they split two finals with Detroit, but won the second of the two. On top of that the Penguins have been the dominant team in the playoffs the past 10 years ranking first or second in Stanley Cup finals appreances, wins and playoff wins. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/289652432/2550×3300/cut.png. Though in the home ice advantage of gold standard mark 481 consecutive sell outs and Nashville is in for a brutal fight. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/289652432/2550×3300/cut.png.
Nashville will take at least one game, maybe two. You don’t sweep a Chicago team, built very much like Pittsburgh in terms of star power, and not feel confident. I wouldn’t say it was luck as Nashville followed it up by beating St. Louis and Anaheim too, both times presumably as the underdog.
This could be a cause where if Pittsburgh underestimates them and comes out flat it could be in for a surprise. Much like the series against Ottawa that should on paper have been domination. Pittsburgh’s star power and experience has the ability to win this in quick fashion. They just need to play like it.
Bold prediction is Pens in 5. Realistic is Pens in 6. Though I would venture to say a game seven would be incredibly interesting and would be anyone’s to take. This series is the rubber match from the regular season with so much more on the line. Looking for both teams to come out hungry and have this be an intense final. One that should end with Crosby hoisting his third cup and adding to his legacy.
Not even this viral video with catchy tune will stop Pittsburgh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pz7SlP3FiM4