On Monday night, the Nashville Predators will start their battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The entire season comes down to this. All the blood, sweat and tears will culminate in a best of 7 series to have your name etched onto the Cup. The Penguins will be a challenge for the Predators, but it’s one they seem ready for.
Pittsburgh comes into this series with the pedigree, playing in their fouth Stanley Cup Final in the last 10 years, while Nashville has only one player to make it this far, Mike Fisher. The Penguins are averaging 3.05 goals per game and have scored 58 goals in the 19 games they have played to this point. They understand what this moment means, especially since there main core has played in all 3 of the previous Cup Finals appearances. Many people picked them to be here. The Pens have not gotten here without their struggles however. Both of the last two series have taken 7 games to win and they showed some tired legs in the extra sessions of Game 7 against Ottawa. Yet, they got the job done.
Nashville is the up and coming team. While it only took them 16 games to get here, those games took their toll. They would lose Kevin Fiala for the playoffs against the Blues and then Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher against the Ducks. However, that has not deterred the Preds from concentrating on the goal at hand. They have been the most consistent team in this year’s playoffs. Having yet to lose back to back games or trail in a series. They have also played their system perfectly, shutting out the other team’s stars along the way. These 10 players, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg would be the main pieces you would need to stop from the Predators opposition this year. Those 10 combined for only 22 pts in 16 games and a combine -30 against Nashville. Arguably the hottest player they faced at that time was Ryan Getzlaf. Coming into the series he has 15 pts in 11 games, but was held to only 4 pts in 6 against the Preds and 3 of those points came in Game 2.
These two teams have fought hard to get here. Both of them have beaten the favorite from their conference on the road to this meeting. Nashville swept Chicago in round 1 and Pittsburgh took out the Capitals in 7 in round 2. Now let’s take a comparison look at the two teams by position.
Nashville – The Predators depth at forward is a big reason they are here right now. Having played 18 different forwards to this point in the playoffs, 13 have scored a goal. However, with Ryan Johansen done for the season and the uncertain status of Mike Fisher, they could be fighting an uphill battle. Colton Sissons has stepped up big team for this team in Johansen’s absence. After his hat trick in Game 6 against Anaheim, he now has 5 goals and 10 points. Filip Forsberg is pacing the team with 8 goals and 15 points. They are playing hard as a group and will have to continue that pack mentality to match up with what Pittsburgh brings to the table at forward. They may also be getting much needed reinforcements in Fisher and Craig Smith back into the lineup.
Pittsburg – The Penguins have the best 1-2 punch at center in the NHL in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That is bearing out on the score sheet as well as Malkin has 24 points and Crobsy has 20. They also have Phil Kessel (19 points) and Jake Guentzel (9 goals) on the wings. However, they are very top heavy in this regard. No other Penguin forward has more than 7 points. They are just as fast as the Predators and might arguably be a slight bit faster. Yet, they have not faced a combination of goaltending and top 4 D that they will see in this series. The key for them is can they get some depth scoring. If Nashville is able to control their stars, as they have so far to everyone else’s, then they must have others contribute. If Nashville cannot control the Pens stars at forward, then this could be a short series.
Advantage – Penguins (slightly)
Nashville – No one is going to argue the Predators advantage here. They currently have the best top 4 defensemen in the NHL in P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Subban and Ekholm have been particularly dominant in their own end so far, becoming a shutdown pair. Josi and Ellis are not too bad to this point either. The Predators defense as a whole leads the league in points with 42. The biggest eye popping stat between the 2 defense cores is the +/-. The Predators are currently at a +30, while the Pens are at a +13.
Pittsburgh – While Justin Schultz has been very good this post season, they miss Kris Letang a lot. The top pair of Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey are a combined +3. Olli Maatta is a guy who could pick up some slack. While his playoff year started pretty well, he has looked very shaky in the last 2 or 3 games, becoming a turnover machine. The Predators are a quick transition team and any slip up this group makes could end up in the back of their net.
Advantage – Nashville
Nashville – Pekka Rinne has been stellar so far in the playoffs. Currently he has a goals against of 1.70 and a save percentage of .941, leading all goalies in the playoffs. These numbers are also in the top 5 all time among goalies starting 15 games in the playoffs. If the Predators were to win the Cup, Rinne would be the top choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Pittsburgh – It is hard to judge Matt Murray on his playoff season, as he has only played in 4 games to this point, taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the Sens series. However, his numbers were good against Ottawa, posting a 1.35 GAA and a .946 save percentage. We do have to remember that, even though he is technically a rookie, he will be trying to win his 2nd Stanley Cup. Murray has been through this before and should be up to the task at hand.
Advantage – Draw
Nashville – Peter Laviolette. He has pulled all the right strings in this playoff run. In the first series against Chicago everyone thought they knew what the Preds lines would look like. Lavy threw in some twists by starting Pontus Aberg with James Neal and Calle Jarnkrok and put Harry Zolnierczyk with Mike Fisher and Austin Watson. Add to that using Subban and Ekholm to completely eliminate Toews from the series. Then in round 2 he countered the Blues physical play with his some of his own by inserting Vern Fiddler and Cody Mcleod into the linueup. Then against the Ducks, he made probably his best moves so far. With Johansen and Fisher out and everyone wondering if Vladislav Kamenev will get his 1st playoff start with Fiddler, Lavy does it again. Instead he played Frederick Gaudreau and breaks up his top line of Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Also, he moved both Aberg and Sissons up with Forsberg. What happens? Gaudreau wins 71% of his draws in Game 5, Aberg also gets the game winner in this game. Then in Game 6, Sissons not only scores the game winner, but gets a hat trick. What does Lavy do next?
Pittsburgh – Simple, Crosby and Malkin. Let’s face it, this team will go as far as these two players carry them. While neither has been dominant in this playoff run, they both have it in them to do so. If either one of these guys decide to put the team on their back, they can, and it would be dangerous for the Preds to allow either to try.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I am pumped and ready to get this party started. Smashville is going to be even more crazy then it has been to this point. Just having a Stanley Cup Final in our city is going to be huge. Now, it’s time for me to be a bit of a homer, LET’S GO PREDS!!!
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