By: Allan Erickson
Hockey- the ultimate team sport, a sport in which momentum will carry a Cinderella team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Today begins the series between the prevalent Pittsburgh Penguins, and the first-time participant Nashville Predators. The David vs. Goliath story- a team that’s never advanced this far, against the almighty defending Champion. Who will hoist the Cup, and which team will begin looking towards next season?
With perennial all-stars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and arguably the best goal-tender tandem in the NHL with Marc Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, we expect a Finals appeareance from the defending champion Penguins. What about the other guys? Nashville snuck into the playoffs as the 8 seed in the mighty western conference. With solid goal-tending from Pekka Rinne, and the most aggressive, offensive-minded defense in the league, the Predators were out to prove the experts wrong.
We’ll start with the Penguins journey to the finals. First, we’ll applaud the Penguins for not getting down on the team halfway through the year. The Penguins haven’t had their full plethora of players since January. All-star defenseman Kris Letang suffered a season-ending injury. Chris Kunitz saw his first playoff action in game-3 of the Eastern Conference finals. Starting netminder Matt Murray suffered a lower-body injury in warmups before game 1 of the Penguins first round bout with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Pens have also missed Justin Scholtz, Trevor Daley, Chad Ruwhedel, Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, Carl Hagelin, and were without Sidney Crosby for a game in their second round series against the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh never blinked in the eyes of adversity. Beating the Blue Jackets in 5 games, beating the Capitals in game-7 on the road, and ousting the Ottawa Senators in a game-7 double overtime thriller to advance to the Finals. No team in the history of hockey has overcome more injuries en route to a finals appearance than these Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now, the best of the West. The Nashville Predators are reminiscent of the 2005-2006 Carolina Hurricanes. A team with developing young talent, but not much experience. Most impressive for these Nashville Predators has been the performance of Pekka Rinne. Much like Conn Smythe winner (Playoff MVP,) Cam Ward for the aforementioned Hurricanes, Rinne has been the best player in this year’s postseason. Rinne leads the league in all goalie categories throughout the playoffs. A 12-4 win-loss record, paired with a 1.70 goals against average, and an off the chart save percentage of .941, he’s playing like the best goaltender on the planet. The Predators swept the #1 seed Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, ousted the St. Louis Blues in 6 games, and beat the Anaheim Ducks in 6 games to advance to the final round. The most impressive thing about the run from the Preds is that their seeding made for a rough stretch of games. Unlike the Penguins, the Predators haven’t had home-ice advantage in a single-series. Winning on opposing ice is difficult, especially in the postseason; but the Predators have answered the bell multiple times. Their record away from home is an astonishing 6-2, which they will need at least one more road victory to win the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Nashville hoists the Cup for the first time in franchise history.
This is a tough series for me to pick. But, like all hockey fans, we learn at a young age that when you’re in the playoffs, you bet on the better goalie. Pekka Rinne is playing out of his mind right now, and despite the firepower that the Penguins have on offense, Rinne will continue to get the job done, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, and bringing Nashville their first Stanley Cup Victory. Nashville will win on home ice, and close out the series in 6 games.
Game 1- Pittsburgh 2 Nashville 1 OT
Game 2- Nashville 3 Pittsburgh 1
Game 3- Nashville 1 Pittsburgh 0
Game 4- Pittsburgh 3 Nashville 1
Game 5- Nashville 4 Pittsburgh 1
Game 6- Nashville 2 Pittsburgh 1 OT