With all of the excitement that the Nashville Predators have brought to the south, I thought I’d bring you the basics and and a few key match-ups when they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals, starting this Monday on NBC at 8:00 p.m.
First thing’s first. I obsess over hockey like Freddie Maggard obsesses over football. I could talk about how rolling four lines out can wear a team down. How the neutral zone trap almost pushed the Ottawa Senators into the Finals. Dive into the numbers of how Nashville’s depth on the blue line is difficult to defend.
Would some of you get it? Absolutely. Are most people lost from those last few sentences? I have no doubt. The most important fact is that now you’re here and enjoying the Preds run through the playoffs. So jump on the bandwagon, there is plenty of room.
Goaltending – Pekka Rinne vs. Matt Murray
There is the old baseball analogy that a hot pitcher can carry a team in the playoffs (1988 Dodgers, San Francisco Giants 2014 i.e.), and the same came be said about goaltenders in the NHL. Matt Murray was thrust into the roll of starting in last years playoffs as a rookie. He responded by being steely eyed between the pipes, pushing his team to a championship.
This year Murray, once again, has proven to be a calming force in a tight game. Technically flawless, Murray has lost a few games through no fault of his own. While not flashy, he keeps it simple and follows the puck well.
Pekka Renne on the other hand has been hotter than a firecracker. Renne pushed aside 38 shots in game 6 against Anaheim to earn Nashville their first trip to the finals. Tall, lanky, and flashy are just a few of the words to describe Renne. It remains to be seen if Renne can shut down the Penguins like he has shut down the Blackhawks, Blues, and Ducks.
Advantage – Renne (slightly)
Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel vs. P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm
Defense wins championships, right? This will be put to the test from the opening face-off. Malkin leads the playoffs in points, and his sidekick Kessel is third. While Sydney Crosby is the bigger name, the Malkin-Kessel line is the larger threat to produce scoring.
After the blockbuster trade in the offseason that brought him to Nashville, P.K. Subban has become a legitimate star. Don’t believe me? Ask Tyler Thompson. Paired up with Ekholm, this defensive pair leads in both offensive prowess and shutting down the opponents top lines. Can they slow down Pittsburgh’s offensive juggernaut? That remains to be seen.
Advantage – Pittsburgh
Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson vs. Pittsburgh Defense
The depth Nashville has in scoring is led by it’s first line. They took a huge hit by losing center Ryan Johansen for the playoffs with an upper leg injury in Game 5 against the Ducks. Forsberg and Arvidsson will be paired with a different center for the cup finals, and it remains to be seen if they can fill up the net.
Pittsburgh also took a large hit when Kris Letang was ruled out at the very end of the season. The comparison you could make would be if the Patriots lost Tom Brady at the same time the Broncos lost Von Miller. This makes the next man up mantra come to the forefront. Olli Maatta has paired with Justin Schultz to pick up the slack thus far. It’ll be up to the other four defense-men to stop Nashville’s depth in scoring.
Advantage – Nashville
This isn’t a David vs. Goliath match-up. The two teams both have certain things going for them and most amount to a betting push. Nashville’s depth in scoring will be tested by Murray. Pittsburgh’s offensive push will have a difficult time breaking through Rinne. The experience clearly goes to the Penguins, having won the cup last year. This is Nashville’s first ever trip to the championship. Will that translate over to the ice? We shall see. One problem the Pens may have is that Nashville has played 3 fewer games. Also, the Pens haven’t been physically punished like they will be against the Preds. Most experts are split down the middle over who wins, so I’m going with my gut on this one. Nashville in six games.
If this is your first time watching hockey, I can not emphasize enough how exciting it is in person. The game is fast, skillful, and violent at times. I’m a firm believer that once you figure out how things work, such as rules and team setups, you’ll be hooked. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Welcome to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.
For anyone that knows me, the above post was written by a die-hard New York Rangers fan. Even typing Sydney Crosby’s name was hard to do. I tried my best to put those feelings aside to bring you this coverage. If you have any questions about the basics of the game, like “What is icing?’, or “What kind of penalty was called?”, feel free to tweet me @BHMDeadcast or join in the discussion in the comments.