Commonly referred to as the most difficult trophy in sports to capture, the Stanley Cup is once again up for grabs with the Finals matchup set and that introductory cliché is the main argument for this article’s thesis: the Nashville Predators are going to win the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins, the team they’ll face in the Finals, will be attempting to lift Lord Stanley’s mug for the second straight year, a near impossible feat in today’s NHL. No team has successfully defended a Stanley Cup win since the Red Wings did in 1998 and this Penguins team is just the fourth to make it back to the Finals a year after winning.
It’s very impressive that the Pens have made it this far but they barely scraped by in an Eastern Conference Finals most thought they would breeze through and it looks like they could be running out of gas.
Banged-up and tired, the Pens will meet a Nashville team in the Finals that’s been absolutely rolling its way through the postseason and that’s needed just 16 games to make it this far. Come time for Game 1, the Preds will have had a full week off and are expected to get a fully healthy Mike Fisher back in the lineup. I not only think the Preds win this series, I think they could do it fairly easily.
Here are some reasons why they do:
They Don’t Get Scored on
Allowing just 1.81 goals per game, the Preds have been by far the best defensive club in the postseason and with a plus-1.13 goal differential per game, they haven’t been sacrificing much offense in the process. Although it’s been a team effort, Pekka Rinne is the man worthy of the most praise for the Preds’ sparkling numbers.
The Finnish netminder has been enjoying a run since the middle of March that’s seen him post a 17-8 straight up record with a .942 save percentage – arguably the best stretch of his career – and until Rinne gets blown up, there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep it up.
A blue line that’s made up of Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm deserves a lot of the credit as well. They’ve been dominating every group of forwards they’ve had the pleasure of defending and represent by far the best core of d-men the Penguins will have played this postseason.
The Pens had a ton of trouble scoring on the Senators (outside of their seven-goal outburst in Game 5) and they’ll be in for a serious culture shock if they come into this best-of-seven thinking goals will be easy to come by.
They’re Nearly Unbeatable at Home
Going 7-1 at Bridgestone Arena this postseason and 31-18 straight up since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, the fans in Nashville have gotten behind their team and every playoff game in Smashville has been a party. It’s felt for a while that this team was destined to make it to the brink and now that they have, it feels wrong cheering against them.
Additionally, Nashville has a 52.63 Corsi-for percentage on home ice this postseason and the Penguins have an overall Corsi-for percentage of just 41. What this means is that it’s extremely likely that the Preds dominate possession and shot metrics at home and I find it hard to picture them losing a game on friendly ice.
Pittsburgh has been getting incredibly lucky all postseason with timely goals and outrageous goaltending performances from Marc-Andre Fleury. Math has to catch up to them at some point and if I’m right, it will happen against a Preds side that gets the check mark from me at every position other than center.
That said, Sidney Crosby has been terrible in his three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, amassing just one goal in his last 16 games when participating in the last series of the year. If Sid the Kid goes silent in yet another SCF, the Pens will be handing the trophy over to their yellow rivals at the conclusion of the NHL’s centennial season.
Click here if you want to hear Joe Osborne plead his case for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Odds as of May 26 at Bovada