NHL 2017 Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Get the full NHL experience. Play our Stanley Cup finals fantasy hockey contests at FanPicks.com, as the Predators and Penguins are set to square of tonight at 8PM Eastern Time. No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since 1998, a drought the Pittsburgh Penguins can end. They are the prohibitive favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s trophy at the expense of the upstart Predators, who are appearing in their first Stanley Cup Final.
Pittsburgh features the top three scorers in the postseason in Evgeni Malkin, captain Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel. They are the first team to reach the Cup Final in back-to-back seasons since the Penguins in 2008 and 2009. Nashville was the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and posted the fewest points of any of the 16th playoff participants, but swept Chicago in the opening round before dispatching St. Louis and Anaheim in a pair of six-game series. Predators bench boss Peter Laviolette becomes the fourth coach to lead three different teams to Stanley Cups finals. Along with Penguins counterpart Mike Sullivan, this will mark the first time that American coaches square off for hockey’s top prize.
Pittsburgh Penguins Outlook
Malkin (24 points) and Crosby (20) are running 1-2 in the playoff scoring race. They seemingly shine when the lights are brightest, with each one winning a Conn Smythe Trophy. Kessel notched six points in the seven-game series against Ottawa. Fellow 23-goal scorer Conor Sheary has not fared as well. He has yet to tally in the playoffs. Jake Guentzel is mired in an eight-game goal drought after scoring nine times in the first 11 games of the postseason.
Matt Murray, who backstopped Pittsburgh to a championship a year ago following a late-season injury to Marc-Andre Fleury, reclaimed the starting job from Fleury in the Ottawa series. He went 3-1 with six goals allowed in his four starts. Forward Patric Hornqvist, acquired from Nashville in exchange for forward James Neal in June 2014, is a game-time decision after sitting out the final six contests against the Senators.
Nashville Predators Outlook
The daunting challenge of trying to match up against Crosby and Malkin is exacerbated by the absence of top-line center Ryan Johansen (thigh), lost for the rest of the playoffs after Game 4 against Anaheim. Colton Sissons stepped in for Johansen. He supplied a hat trick in the series clincher against the Ducks, but the Predators will continue to rely heavily on Filip Forsberg, a 31-goal scorer during the regular season who scored five times against Anaheim and is riding a seven-game point streak.
While No. 2 center Mike Fisher appears poised to return from injury, Nashville’s strength is at the other end of the ice, with its top four defensemen — Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm — combining for a staggering 39 points in 16 playoff games. Still, the Predators’ hopes likely hinge on 34-year-old Pekka Rinne, who is 12-4 with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in the postseason.