Stanley Cup Preview: Drive for Five Begins

Posted on May 29 2017 - 10:05am by Jason McDermott
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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators begin the last seven game series of the season in a quest to obtain hockey’s ultimate prize.  The Stanley Cup.

This is the Predators first trip to the Finals in franchise history.  Pittsburgh is making appearance number six, coincidentally each time the make the Finals, they do it again the next year as well.  Pittsburgh is 4-1 in the previous Finals appearances Losing to Detroit in 2008, and winning in 1991, 92, 2009, and of course last year.

SCHEDULE

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks

Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports

*if necessary

 

KNOW THY ENEMY

The Predators got here by sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0, then they silenced the music of the St. Louis Blues 4-2.  In the Western Final they pulled out the old Nintendo Entertainment System and went on a Duck Hunt, taking out Anaheim 4-2.

Pekka Rinne is 12-4 in these playoffs so far.  The Nashville netminder has a GAA of 1.70 and a save percentage of .941.  Eve-popping numbers and leading the league by far this Spring.

Nashville has a Top 4 on the blue line like no other.  PK Subban, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Roman Josi, they can play the game any way you want.  They can lead the rush on their own, start a breakout with a crisp pass, get physical, or just shut you down with their defensive abilities.

This will be the biggest test for the Penguins who currently boast three of the top 5 scorers in the NHL this post-season in Crosby, Malki, and Kessel.

Nashville is led offensively by Filip Forsberg, he of 8 goals and 7 assists.  Their second leading scorer, Ryan Johansen has 13 points but will not add to that total as he is out for the rest of the playoffs.  Johansen had emergency surgery on his thigh during the last round.

Mike Fisher, another center is recovering from a concussion, but is expected to be available starting tomorrow.

In the absence of those two players, Colton Sissions and ex-Penguin, James Neal have carried the offense from the forward position.  Pittsburgh will have a HUGE advantage up front and especially at the Center spot.

For Nashville to win this series, they will need to rely heavily on their back-end and Rinne as well.  Nashville plays a more open free-flowing style than Ottawa presented.  Given the Preds d-men loving to activate into the offensive zone, the Penguins may very well have a ton of odd man breaks IF they are smart and sound in their own defensive zone.

 

The Good Guys

photo credit: USA Today

Pittsburgh comes in at 12-7  so far this Spring, taking out Columbus in 5 games, the Washington Capitals in 7, and likewise for Ottawa.

The Penguins were physically beat up during the Ottawa series and had trouble emotionally getting right after a big time series with the Caps.  The Penguins fought through it all and eventually found their game in the last four of the Sens series, dominating the Sens in play and needing a heroic effort in Game Seven to finally vanquish Craig Anderson and company.

You could say the Pens hit a wall at the beginning of it, and found their way through and started to play some of their best attacking hockey of the Spring.

The Pittsburgh defense is a patchwork crew, with Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley returning in the last round, it certainly has stabilized the unit in the absence of Kris Letang.  Olli Maatta, despite having a rough Game 7 vs Ottawa, has been a big player for Pittsburgh in the first three rounds.

Jake Guentzel still leads the NHL with nine goals this Spring, but has hit a wall it seems.  It will be interesting to see what kind of ice time the rookie gets to begin the Final round.

Patric Hornqvist appears to be ready to go after taking full part in Sunday’s team practice.  Hornqvist missed most of the last series with what is believed to be a hand injury.

In net, Matt Murray has returned to the pipes as he took over for Marc Andre Fleury during the Sens series and been his usual solid self.  He is 3-1 with a 1.35 GAA and .946 save percentage.  Murray is looking to win his SECOND Cup in net, as a rookie.

The teams split the regular season series with both teams beating each other at home.  Nashville 5-1 in Music City, Pittsburgh 4-2 at PPGPA.

 

Mike Warren dropping knowledge:

1. Nashville’s Defense vs. Pittsburgh’s Offense. Chris Kunitz was quoted as saying that Nashville has “4 Karlsson’s”  so this will be a big test for the Pens forwards. Nashville should have the man power to match-up with both Sid and Malkin. Something not many teams can do.
Usually stopping Sid means Malkin is free to roam. This will not be the case in this series. Nashville shut down Toews and Kane in round 1, so there is proof in the pudding. Some are calling for the bottom six guys on the Pens to step up but I look for Malkin, Sid and Kessel to rise to the challenge.
This Nashville defense is overrated, and these guys smell the cup and will have a big series.
2. As always goaltending. It’s still amazing that the Penguins seamlessly changed goaltenders without missing a beat. Nashville has seen just super steady play from Renne. After battling through the solid play of Anderson, look for the Penguins to get to Renne.
3. Ottawa presented so many problems because of the style of hockey that they played. Nashville isn’t like that. They will try to skate and play a fast tempo with Pittsburgh, and that is a recipe for disaster. It took the Penguins to drastically change things in the Ottawa series and play a style that they are not used to, and it almost cost them the series. Getting back to an up and down skating game will be huge for Pittsburgh.
4. There is so much on the line for this Pittsburgh team and the players on it that they will not miss the chance to capitalize. Another cup for Sid puts him in the conversation of top 5 players ever. It makes the fact that Malkin was left off the top 100 list all time seem fairly ridiculous. Murray or Fleury with wins/cups each can add fairly significant accomplishments to their resumes.  The Pens as an organization will have reaffirmed dynasty status and will jump over Chicago in the back and forth battle. So much motivation for every on this team and smelling the finish line will only push them harder.
5. Who will score for Nashville? Again this is sort of carry over from point number 3 but Nashville I can’t see keeping up the scoring with Pittsburgh. Without their top scorer, they will have pray for miracles and just cannot see it happening.
6. Anthem madness in Nashville! What famous country singers will belt out the anthem?
7. It all comes down to the fact that Pittsburgh simply is a better team than Nashville. Think Pens vs. North Stars in the first cup run or when Calgary made the run to play Tampa in the finals. Yes, the series will be tough, and no team in the NHL is a pushover, but Pittsburgh is the defending champs who disposed of 2 of the best teams in the NHL and fought through a tough match-up in round 3. Nashville barely made the playoffs and have been the classic hot playoff team. More power up front, a better coach and a thousand times more Cup experience will be too much for the Preds to deal with.

Predictions:

I expect this series to have a faster pace than the Pens/Sens matchup.  Pittsburgh will find more open ice and room to operate.  If the Penguins can maintain possession and generate in the offensive zone, the chances for success will be very high.  Taking advantage of the powerplays given will also be key.  Nashville is the best defensive team in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh is the highest scoring offense.  The irresistible force meets the immovable object.

Nashville has lost one time on their home ice, so the Pens holding serve at home will be a key as well.

The last thing is the experience factor.  Pittsburgh has been here on this stage last year.  They know what to expect, I fully believe this will be a huge factor in the first two games until Nashville gets up to speed.  It happened with the Sharks last year.

I’ll take Pens in 6.  Once again winning the Cup on road ice and completing their dynasty with Sid and Geno and pushing past the greatness of the Lemieux, Jagr, Francis era.

Mike:  Penguins in 5, back to back Stanley Cup Champs

 

 

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