2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview and Predictions

We’re just going to ignore how badly my bracket got destroyed before the first round ended.

The Nashville Predators and defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will battle it out in their first postseason meeting in league history in order to win arguably the most prized possession in all of professional hockey, the Stanley Cup. This is Nashville’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, while Pittsburgh has been to the Final six times overall (and now two straight). Pittsburgh is looking to win back-to-back Stanley Cups for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings won in ’97 and ’98; they will also have home-ice advantage.

The Penguins are a more offensive team, with household names like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and newcomers like Jake Guentzel, while the Predators are stronger defensively, with workhorses in P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. The Pens have 58 goals for and 574 shots for, while the Preds have 47 goals for and 479 shots for. The Pens lead in goals/game with 3.08 (league postseason average: 2.37) while the Preds have the best goals against/game at 1.81 (league postseason average: 2.68).

Malkin and Crosby, the two-headed monster, are the postseason’s leading scorers with 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) and 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists), respectively. Guentzel leads all scorers with nine goals; Filip Forsberg has eight (he has 15 points). Ryan Johansen has 10 assists to lead Nashville; Malkin leads Pittsburgh with 17.

The two teams met just twice during the regular season, splitting the series 1-1-0.

Schedule:
Game 1: Monday, May 29 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 2: Wednesday, May 31 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 3: Saturday, June 3 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 4: Monday, June 5 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 5*: Thursday, June 8 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
Game 6*: Sunday, June 11 8:00PM @ Bridgestone Arena
Game 7*: Wednesday, June 14 8:00PM @ PPG Paints Arena
*if necessary

All games will be televised on NBC, except for Games 2 and 3, which will be broadcast on NBCSN. All seven games will also be broadcast on CBC, Sportsnet, and TVA Sports.

Nashville’s road to the Final: the Preds entered the postseason as a wildcard and very few people expected them to get past Chicago (I was one of them!) so what did they do? They swept the Hawks, limiting them to just three goals in four games. Sweeping the powerhouse that is Chicago should have been the first sign of big things for Nashville. They then defeated both the Blues and the Ducks, four games to two. The Predators have not yet faced an elimination game this postseason and they have had much more rest than the Penguins.

Pittsburgh’s road to the Final: the Pens entered as one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference, expected to go far. They have also had the tougher road to the Final. Their first series against the Blue Jackets went to six games, and both series after, against the Capitals and the Senators, went to seven games each. They might not show it but they’re tired.

Nashville injuries: the Preds are already missing Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala indefinitely, but they hope to have Captain Mike Fisher back from a head injury for Game 1 on Monday. Johansen is arguably Nashville’s biggest injury because he is their #1 center.

Pittsburgh injuries: Pittsburgh’s biggest injury is Kris Letang, who suffered a neck injury and has been out for a while (and won’t be returning any time soon). Tom Kuhnhackl and Chad Ruhwedel both remain out for the Pens, but Patric Hornqvist might return soon. Justin Schultz is playing through an upper body injury.

Scoping the goaltenders: Pekka Rinne has been nothing but phenomenal for the Predators this postseason. He’s gone 12-4 so far with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage, and he’s posted a pair of shutouts (over the Hawks, no less). Rinne went 7-7 last postseason with a 2.63 GAA and .906 save percentage, but has taken his game to several new levels. He’s looked almost unbeatable over the last few weeks.

Matt Murray led the Pens to a Stanley Cup win last season and he just might do it again. He’s played just four games since returning from an injury suffered before Game 1 against Columbus but he’s gone 3-1 with a 1.35 GAA and a .946 save percentage. His sample size is a bit smaller for this year but he went 15-6 last postseason with a 2.08 GAA and .923 save percentage. He’s looked really, really good in the few games he’s played so far but we know what he’s capable of.

Let’s not forget Marc-Andre Fleury either, who carried the team until Murray was okay to play. He’s had a good postseason too, in what might be his last postseason as a Penguin. He went 9-6, and had a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save % with a pair of shutouts. He’s also played really well for his team and the Pens shouldn’t forget about him.

Home-ice advantage? Maybe. The Penguins will play four (of seven) games at home and they’ve gone 6-3 this postseason at the PPG Paints Arena, while the Predators have gone 7-1 at Bridgestone Arena. Both arenas should be difficult to play in for their opponents, especially with the Stanley Cup on the line.

Playoff experience: the Penguins have a combined 156 games of Stanley Cup Final experience while the Preds have 5 games total (all Mike Fisher), according to ESPN. The Pens hold the edge here, especially because they won it all last season.

Stats: the Predators have yet to lose a game after leading at the end of the second period (7-0). If Nashville wins, they would be the first team ranked No.16 to win the Cup. Two American coaches (Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Nashville’s Peter Laviolette) will also be facing in the Cup Finals for the first time. There have been 27 overtime games this postseason, just 1 game shy of the single-postseason record (1993). If Murray starts Game 1, he’ll become the second goalie in NHL history to play in multiple Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie. The other? Jacques Plante. Crosby is the 7th different player to captain a team to at least four Stanley Cup Finals appearances since 1967-68. The Pens are the fourth team since 1998-99 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals a year after winning the whole thing; the other three lost (Dallas in 2000, New Jersey in 2001, and Detroit in 2009).

Predictions: this is going to be one of the best Stanley Cup Finals we’ve seen in a while. A powerful offense against a formidable defense? Sign me up. Expect to see a few goaltending duels as well. At least four games are decided by one goal and at least two of them will go to OT (and set the single postseason record in the process). Guentzel will finally score again (since not scoring at all during the Senators series). Crosby might not have a spectacular series (he hasn’t looked exactly the same since before his concussion) but Malkin will. Subban will break out (more than he already has) and score at least three goals; he’ll have some help from Roman Josi and James Neal.

I’m not partial to either team but I’m hoping for a Cinderella story: Predators in 7. Nashville wins their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pekka Rinne wins the Conn Smythe.

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