Nashville Predators Road
By now, many of you know the Nashville Predators are the real deal. They swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. They beat the St. Louis Blues in six games. And most recently, they beat the Anaheim Ducks in six games. Nashville has decisively outplayed all of their opponents to this point. Smashville is here for it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins road has been more arduous. They were outplayed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but won in five games. They were outplayed by the Washington Capitals, but won in seven games. Finally, they figured out the stout Ottawa Senators and their 1-3-1 scheme in seven games. The Penguins could be the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
In addition to getting Captain Mike Fisher back, Pekka Rinne will need to stand on his head again. Rinne currently has a .941 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average this postseason. However, his most impressive stat is one you will not hear about on the NHL website or through NBC’s analysis. Rinne’s goals saved above average this season, which quantifies the goals prevented by given save percentage and shots faced, is 9.35. If Rinne continues this Conn Smythe performance, the Predators could win their first Stanley Cup.
Staying healthy. Pittsburgh currently has the following players out due to injury: Patric Hornqvist, Tom Kuhnhackl, Kris Letang, and Chad Ruhwedel. Even more have rotated in and out of injury this playoff season. If another Penguin goes down that eats big minutes, like Chris Kunitz or Phil Kessel, the Pens are toast. Matt Murray’s return has been huge, and Sidney Crosby’s return from a concussion are both big wins. Pittsburgh cannot afford to lose another player to injury though.
By stymying the Penguins offense the same way they have done to the rest of their competition. Filip Forsberg, James Neal, and Viktor Arvidsson can score, but Nashville’s ability to dismantle teams top scorers has been surgical.
Wrote about the Predators defensemen, how they'll match up with the Penguins forwards, and PK's blueline dominance: https://t.co/LQtoqsjN23 pic.twitter.com/XNspvOF8XQ
— Filipovic Forsberg (@DimFilipovic) May 27, 2017
Opponents quite literally cannot get past the Predators blue line. If they can neutralize the Penguins stars the same way they have the past three rounds, Nashville will win its first Stanley Cup.
By exploiting the Predators lack of center depth. Ryan Johansen is out for the season. Mike Fisher and Craig Smith might be back for the finals, but that is a toss up. With their current line up, this would be the center matchups if they corresponded directly 1 through 4:
|Line Order||Pittsburgh Center||Nashville Center|
|1||Sidney Crosby||Colton Sissons|
|2||Evgeni Malkin||Frederick Gaudreau|
|3||Nick Bonino||Calle Jarnkrok|
|4||Matt Cullen||Vernon Fiddler|
If Mike Sullivan can work his magic to get the matchups he wants, Pittsburgh will dominate from the center position out.
This is a toss up. Nashville’s defense will beat Pittsburgh’s defense. Pittsburgh’s offense has a slight edge over Nashville’s. This will come down to goaltending, and it is going to seven games. Hang on for an exciting series.