Welcome to the Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators!

The long and grueling journey that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs is ready for one more epic battle as the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, will take on the upstart Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Finals!

16 teams entered the playoffs with dreams of raising Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Predators were the last team to qualify, thus making them the Cinderella of these playoffs. Now four wins separates the Penguins from their 5th Stanley Cup Championship–or the 1st for the Predators and their rabid fan-base from Music City.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Head Coach: Mike Sullivan

Regular Season Record: 50-21-11 (111 Points) / 2nd in Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh Penguins Roster

The defending champs journey to the Stanley Cup Finals wasn’t an easy one. In the 1st Round, they faced off against the Columbus Blue Jackets and dispatched their rivals in five games. Next loomed the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh held a 3-1 series advantage before finally defeating the Caps in seven games. It was the 9th time in 10 meetings that the Penguins ended Washington’s season. In the Eastern Conference Finals, it took seven games for Pittsburgh to rid themselves of the Ottawa Senators.

Pittsburgh is loaded with star power, and their best players have risen to the occasion over the course of the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin enters the Cup Finals with an NHL-leading 24 points (7 goals / 17 assists) in 18 games, while Sidney Crosby is 2nd with 20 points. Phil Kessel (19 points) and Jake Guentzel (16 points) round out the top six league scoring leaders in the postseason. Guentzel is tied for the league lead in goals with nine, though he hasn’t found the back of the net since Game 6 vs Washington.

Goaltender Matt Murray, who lead the Penguins to the Cup last season, regained the starting job after Marc-Andre Fleury faltered in Game 3 against Ottawa, is 3-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in five games, including starts in Games 4-7 against Ottawa. Fleury, aside from two bad games, had been a major reason the Penguins had advanced so far.

Crosby will likely be paired with Bryan Rust and Guentzel on the 1st line. Malkin will be between Kessel and possibly Patric Hornqvist if he is ready to suit up Monday. Scott Wilson started on the 2nd line in Game 7 vs Ottawa.  Nick Bonino will center Carl Hagelin and Carter Rowney. The 4th line will be interesting depending on the health of Hornqvist. Matt Cullen will anchor that line along with Chris Kunitz and whomever Mike Sullivan chooses between Wilson and Conor Sheary.

Tom Kuhnhackl has missed the past eight games with a lower-body injury. Josh Archibald has played in three postseason games this year.

The Penguins defensive pairings will be Brian DumoulinRon Hainsey, Olli MaattaTrevor Daley, and Ian ColeJustin Schultz. Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Streit can step in if any injuries occur.

Star defenseman Kris Letang has missed the entire postseason.

The Penguins may not have the quality of defencemen Nashville does with its front four, but they are a group that has risen to the occasion with the loss of Letang.

“We have a group back there that cares about each other,” said assistant coach Jacques Martin, who oversees the defense. “They’ve been able to raise their level of play.”

Nashville’s defense has produced 11 goals and 42 total points. The Penguins? Eight goals and 37 points.


Nashville Predators

Head Coach: Peter Laviolette 

Regular Season Record: 41-29-12 (94 Points) / 4th in Central Division

Nashville Predators Roster

Nashville may have been the last team to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they have been playing as if they were in contention for the President’s Trophy awarded to the league’s top team record-wise. The Predators shocked the world by sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 in the 1st Round. In the 2nd Round, the Predators took care of the St. Louis Blues in six games. The Western Conference Finals had the Anaheim Ducks standing in the way of Nashville’s first trip to the Cup Finals. Though it was a tough series, the Predators prevailed in six games.

Filip Forsberg leads Nashville team with 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists). He had eight points against the Ducks. Ryan Ellis (4 goals, 7 assists) is third on the team with 11 points. Unfortunately for Nashville, their #2 scorer in Ryan Johansen (three goals, 10 assists) is out for the remainder of the playoffs after having emergency surgery for a thigh injury following Game 4 of the conference final.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has a .941 save percentage, allowing 28 goals on 474 shots, and a 1.71 goals-against average in 16 games. His numbers against the Penguins aren’t as stellar, as he is just 1-5-2 with a .357 goals-against average and .880 save percentage lifetime vs Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are tough to defend thanks to having two of the top centers in the NHL in Malkin and Crosby. However, the Predators feature two pairs of elite defensemen. The duo of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm has drawn the assignment against the top line in each of the first three rounds. This time, they will likely face the Malkin/Kessel assignment, leaving Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi the unenviable task of covering Crosby’s line. The Predator’s 3rd defensive pairing is Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber.

“They’re a very good D-corps,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. “They’re great defensively. They’re great offensively. They’re going to be a challenge.”

Offensively, Nashville isn’t remotely the offensive machine the Penguins are, but they a resilient group that gets the job done when called upon.

Colton Sissons centers the 1st line along the red-hot Forsberg and Pontus Aberg. The 2nd line has Frederick Gaudreau between Colin Wilson and Austin WatsonCalle Jarnkrok is the 3rd line center along with two talented wingers in Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal. Arvidsson hasn’t found the back of the net since April 20 after scoring 31 goals in the regular season.  He did have five assists in the six-game series against Anaheim though. On the 4th line, Vernon Fiddler is with the paring of Cody McLeod and Miikka Salomaki.

Mike Fisher (undisclosed) is day-to-day but might be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.  Craig Smith (lower body) might be able to play in Game 1 as well.


Series Breakdown

The Penguins finished with the 2nd best record in the league, thus ensuring they would hold Home-Ice Advantage over every team they faced, other than Washington.

Home is where the heart is in this series.

The clubs have combined to go 14-4 at home through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Nashville is a league-best 7-1 at home, while the Pittsburgh is 7-3. Over the last two postseasons, the Penguins are 16-7 while the Predators are 11-3. Since 1991, the Eastern Conference has held home-ice in the Final 12 times and those teams have gone 9-3.

The Final also features two United States-born coaches, Mike Sullivan and Peter Laviolette, the first time that has happened in NHL history.

“It’s been hard,” Sullivan said of this team’s long road to get here. “It’s been a really hard playoff, and I give this group of players so much credit. They find ways to win. This group of players has a will to win more so than any other group of players I’ve been around. And it begins with the leadership.”

The Penguins will have the advantage of experience in this match-up. Each step you take in the playoffs the intensity level rises to new heights. The Regular Season is like watching TV in analog. The playoffs are equivalent to HD. The Cup Finals? That’s something like 4K Ultra HD combined with 3D and Virtual Reality. It’s the ultimate stage in the NHL. Every shift comes at you fast and furiously.

Pittsburgh has seven players with more than 100 games of postseason experience (Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Cullen, Hagelin, Marc-Andre Fleury and injured defenseman Letang).

Nashville has one in Mike Fisher, who is also the lone Predator that has been to the Cup Finals.

“Now the fun begins,” Olli Maatta said, a smile plastered on his face. “It’s going to be awesome.”

The Penguins will have the benefit of three full days of rest before the Cup Finals begin Monday night. Nashville will have had six days rest. Both teams will utilize the time off to heal from injuries sustained during the playoffs.  Patric Hornqvist would be a huge addition to the Penguins’ line-up if he is ready to return. His tenacity and net-front presence would cause Nashville plenty of headaches to already go along with trying to contain the likes of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. The Predators have an excellent defense and they will need to play the top of their game if they plan on unseating the Penguins as champions.

All four of Pittsburgh’s lines are capable of putting the puck in the net. The 4th unit with Cullen was often the most tenacious group on the ice early in the Senators series. The Penguins are susceptible to a night where it seems they’ve never seen a sheet of ice before, but being this the Cup Finals, it seems unlikely this team will be taking any nights off this series. Winning back-to-back championships are a magnificent accomplishment, and with just four wins standing in their way, expect the Penguins to be at the top of their game entering this series.

Nashville is a great skating team. They utilize their speed well. It’s going to be fun watching these two teams attack each other. The Penguins have the advantage in skill, offense, and experience. They’ll need to use these gifts in order to corral the confident Predators. Nashville has a slight advantage defensively, as their top four defencemen are rivaled by no team in the league.

P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi rank among Nashville’s top eight scorers. They are quick, agile, and they move the puck with purpose and accuracy.

The biggest question will be whether Laviolette will have his defense attacking the offensive zone as they did against the Blues and Ducks, or will they try to clog the middle with a 1-3-1 like they utilized against the Blackhawks?

One would guess that both tactics may surface to try to frustrate the Penguins. Simply put, it will be the league’s best offense against the league’s best defense. It will be a chess match between Sullivan and Laviolette on who can out-strategize the other.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

The Predators will be hungry to bring Nashville their 1st title, but the Penguins are a team that strives facing adversity and proving all doubters wrong. No one thought the Penguins could be in a position to win back-to-back Cups with Letang sidelined for the playoffs.

No one, that is, except this resilient group of players.

“I think it starts with the leadership group we have, ” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a group of veteran players. I think they have a certain perspective that they understand the opportunity to play this deep and compete for the Stanley Cup doesn’t come around every year. And when it does, when a team like ours puts itself in the position like we have, we have to maximize this opportunity. It’s a great opportunity. And our veteran guys know it. They’ve been around the game a long time, and they understand when they have something special, and we believe we have that with the chemistry of this team. We did it last year, and we’re finding ways to do it again this year. But it’s hard to win. This is the hardest trophy in sports, in my mind. It’s a war of attrition. And I don’t think any team has endured more injuries than this group of players has endured, and we continue to find ways to win.”

It’s going to be a great Final. Both teams are here for a reason. The fans in Nashville and Pittsburgh will be deafening in their venues supporting their beloved teams. Only one will stand tall and earn the rights to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup in the end. It’s hard to bet against a team featuring the likes of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. The Penguins are a team that never gets too high after a win, or too discouraged after a loss. They have an offense that keeps coming after you wave after wave after wave. There may be times where you slow them down or get under their skin. The Predators, especially with their defense, will be a great challenge for Pittsburgh. Eventually, though, this team finds a soft spot, and their relentless attack is enough to break any team or goalie, even one as talented as Rinne and the Predators. It’ll be one helluva fight, but in the end, the Penguins will prove to be too much for Nashville to overcome.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

Penguins-Predators Playoff Series History

This will be the 1st time the Pittsburgh Penguins have faced the Nashville Predators in the playoffs.

Regular Season Series: 1-1 (October 22, Predators won 5-1 in Nashville) / (January 31, Penguins won 4-2 in Pittsburgh)

Series Information

NHL Stanley Cup Finals

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators

Date: Monday, May 29th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators

Date: Wednesday, May 31st

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 3: Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators

Date: Saturday, June 3rd

Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 4: Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators

Date: Monday, June 5th

Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 5: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators *(If Necessary)

Date: Thursday, June 8th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 6: Pittsburgh Penguins at Nashville Predators *(If Necessary)

Date: Sunday, June 11th

Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports   Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio


Game 7: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Nashville Predators *(If Necessary)

Date: Wednesday, June 14th

Venue: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA.

Game Time: 8:10 p.m.

TV: NBC / CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports  Radio: 105.9 The X (Pittsburgh) / NBC Sports Radio and SiriusXM Radio

Series Notes

  • This is Pittsburgh’s second straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final – and sixth overall – while this is Nashville’s first.
  • The Penguins are looking to become the first team since the 1997 and ’98 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. They’re the first franchise since the 1967 NHL Expansion to make consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances on three separate occasions (1991 and ’92; 2008 and ’09; 2016 and ’17).
  • The Penguins have won the Stanley Cup four times: 1991, 1992, 2009, and 2016.
  • Pittsburgh has scored first 13 times this postseason. They’ve won 11 of those 13 for a .846 winning percentage. Nashville has scored first nine times, winning seven (.778).
  • Jake Guentzel is tied for the postseason lead with nine goals but has not scored since Game 6 of the second round against Washington. He has three assists and 14 shots in the past eight games.
  • Pekka Rinne will be put to the test by the Penguins offense, which led the NHL in the regular season with 3.39 goals per game and leads in the playoffs with 3.05.
  • James Neal has five goals this postseason; all have come in the past 11 games, and two were game-winners. Neal played for the Penguins from 2010-14, scoring 89 regular-season goals.
  • The Penguins have a clear advantage on the power play. They are converting on 25 percent of power plays during the playoffs (14-for-56) and went 5-for-9 in the final four games against the Senators. Nashville is 7-for-47 (14.9 percent) with the man advantage.
  • The officials for the Stanley Cup Finals will be:

Referees: Wes McCauley, Brad Meier, Dan O’Halloran, Kevin Pollock

Linesmen: Scott Cherrey, Shane Heyer, Brad Kovalchik, Brian Murphy


NHL Playoff Stats

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