The Stanley Cup Final has been one with some twist and topics that actually benefits hockey. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a 2-1 series lead, are looking to become the first repeat champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98, and the Nashville Predators who entered the league later, began the playoffs as a 16 seed. This is the sixth time the Penguins have made it to the final and the first for the Predators who had not cracked the second round before this season.
The banter and the sights from both venues with Nashville gaining a bit of an edge has been electrifying. Pittsburgh was expected to make it to the final. A slew of injuries stopped the Penguins from finishing first in the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Predators chased teams all season in the Central Division entering the playoffs with the worst record among the 16 qualifiers.
The Predators flipped the switch in the playoffs headlining with the upset of the West-leading Chicago Blackhawks. They then defeated the St. Louis Blues in six and in the Western Conference Finals beat the Pacific champion Anaheim Ducks in six with out their leading scorer, Ryan Johansen, and their captain, Mike Fisher, in Game 4. The Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets in five games, then defeated the best team in the regular season the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh needed double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to get past Washington. Two different paths to one destination.
The strength of the Penguins scoring versus the Predators who arguably have the best defensive core is worth viewing. But the goalies are the true quarterbacks in the NHL game.
Pekka Rinne at age 34 has been amazing leading the Predators’ Cinderella run with a 1.70 goals against average, a .941 save percentage along with 12 wins and two shutouts. Rinne has even recorded three assists along the role as seventh defensive man. The Penguins dealt with whispers of trade speculation regarding Marc-Andre Fleury especially after Matt Murray replaced him. Pittsburgh held on to Fleury which became beneficial since Murray was injured before the first game of the playoffs. Fleury helped the Penguins to the conference finals. Murray returned after the Game 3 loss to Ottawa and was redeemed. The combination of them.
The Music City has been the venue for this final and all of the NHL playoffs. I was drawn to the Predators by the flashy Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban and his flashy two-way play. Subban’s parents both immigrated to Ontario from the Caribbean in the 1970s. Now after the Predators traded Shea Weber for Subban, this home venue adds swagger to his play. Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena has become one of the most revered in the NHL. Nashville has only lost one game at home in the postseason moreover Subban stated they would win Game 3 at home after being down 2-0. Country music and hockey rowdiness are a great combination for the atmosphere of this NHL final. Country music stars from Luke Bryan to Carrie Underwood have been singing the national anthem. Outside the arena amongst the sea of fans, you can find fans showing their pride and relieving some stress taking a sledgehammer to an old car with the Penguins logo painted on it.
After the Predators’ Game 3 win, the dumbest, silliest and funniest thing that could’ve happened in the series and for hockey happened. Sidney Crosby and Subban were in each other’s face. When asked postgame what words were exchanged, Subban stated Crosby “told me my breath smelled, but I used some Listerine before the game, so I don’t know what he’s talking about.” Crosby denied the comment sharing it was made up. Subban before Game 4 was seen carrying a bag full of Listerine into the arena. I pick the Predators in seven. Play fresh my friends.