NHL Playoff Preview – Stanley Cup Finals Edition

Western Conference #8 Seed Nashville Predators

vs Eastern Conference #2 Seed Pittsburgh Penguins

  • Schedule:
    • Game 1: Monday 5/29 in Pittsburgh
    • Game 2: Wednesday 5/31 in Pittsburgh
    • Game 3: Saturday 6/3 in Nashville
    • Game 4: Monday 6/5 in Nashville
    • Game 5 (If Necessary): Thursday 6/8 in Pittsburgh
    • Game 6 (If Necessary): Sunday 6/11 in Nashville
    • Game 7 (If Necessary): Wednesday 6/14 in Pittsburgh
  • The teams split their regular season series 1-1
  • Nashville has become the darling of the hockey world, defeating two of their divisional foes in the first two rounds of the playoffs, Chicago and St. Louis.  In the Conference Finals, they eliminated Anaheim in six hard-fought games.  They have reached this point by having more offensive depth than any other team in these playoffs and by having the best defense in all of hockey.  Goaltender Pekka Rinne has continued to stand on his head and has been fine with traffic in front.  They will be without first line center Ryan Johansen in this round, but the Predators were able to win both games without him last round.  One bright spot is that they should be getting captain Mike Fisher back, which will provide the team with more depth down the middle.  If the Predators can steal one of the first two games in Pittsburgh, then Nashville has a very good chance at upsetting the defending Cup champions when you consider how intense the atmosphere is sure to be in Nashville.
  • Pittsburgh has advanced to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final after beating Washington and Ottawa in back-to-back seven games series.  They have been able to cover up their flaws on defense as their forwards have been given more defensive responsibilities and that will have to continue in the next round.  I also don’t think that their defensemen will be able to pinch down the boards as much as they have been thus far in these playoffs because the Predators defensemen are better equipped to work the puck up ice better than any of their other opponents have been.  Additionally, there won’t be as much open ice available down the middle or on the wings as the Penguins have grown accustomed to and they may have to turn to more of a stretch-pass game to find zone entries.

Advantages

  • Centers: Pittsburgh; Even if Ryan Johansen was healthy, the Penguins would still have the advantage as Crosby, Malkin, and Bonino create one of the most formidable top three center combinations in the league.
  • Wingers: Nashville; This is a very close debate but I think that with the way Forsberg, Arvidsson, Neal, and Aberg have been playing, they have the advantage over Pittsburgh, whose wingers have been very streaky these playoffs.
  • Defense: Nashville; This one isn’t really even close.  The Penguins are missing Letang, plus Schultz just came back, Daley has been playing injured, Hainsey is logging more minutes than any 36 year old should ever play, and Olli Maatta hasn’t looked very good.  In contrast, the Predators essentially have two top defense pairings and the pairing of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm has gone up against the opposition’s top line and has excelled every round thus far.  Even if Pittsburgh can beat that pairing, they still have to go up against a pairing of Josi and Ellis, who could both skate on nearly any other team’s top pairing.  Finally, they have their bottom pairing of Irwin and Yannick Weber, who are insulated with the minutes they play.
  • Goaltending: Pittsburgh: Only slightly to Pittsburgh because I think Matt Murray is just a little bit better of a goaltender than Pekka Rinne.  That being said, Rinne has to be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe right now and has been as good as a goaltender can be in these playoffs.  His ability to play the puck is better than Murray or Fleury’s and it will cause the Penguins to change their zone entry.  Murray, however, is just so technically sound and plays an incredibly calm style of game.
  • Coaching: Nashville; Both of these teams have very good head coaches with Peter Laviolette in Nashville and Mike Sullivan in Pittsburgh.  But for this, I have to go with the coach with a longer track record and that is Laviolette.  He is one of just four head coaches to lead three different teams to Stanley Cup Finals, having won one with Carolina in 2006.  He also, in my opinion, has the better coaching staff, as assistant coach Kevin McCarthy has been one of Laviolette’s assistants since he became the head coach of Carolina during the 2003-04 season.  Laviolette has one of the strongest feels for his roster as any coach I’ve seen in these playoffs.  He made the difficult decision to break up the Forsberg, Johansen, Arvidsson line after Johansen was injured and separating the two wingers has provide depth scoring to their lineup.  He has also done an excellent job at sitting players to rest them and then playing the correct players in their places.

Prediction:

  • I think Nashville wins this series in 6 games for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history
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