2017 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

finalspreview17

The oldest story in sports will play out once more in the Stanley Cup Finals as a powerhouse takes on an underdog for the ultimate prize in hockey.

This story has played out countless times before in everything from a regular season game to championship series and games.

There is always an underdog in every championship but this year the Stanley Cup truly features a team that nobody thought would be here and a team that everyone thought would be here.

It is the truest David versus Goliath matchup as this year’s Stanley Cup will either be one of the biggest surprises or the beginning of another dominant era.

Playing the role of Goliath will be the Pittsburgh Penguins who finished last year as the best team in the league.

They took their fourth Stanley Cup in 2015-16 and their second in the Sidney Crosby era asserting their position as one of the best teams in the league.

Their last Cup before then was in 2009 and since that time they were finding it very tough to get back to the top in the league.

Injuries to Crosby and falling just short had some believing that they were a one-hit wonder rather than a new dynasty.

2016 brought them back to the top of the league and established the team led by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as one of the best teams in this era of the league.

Now though they have another step that they can take as they have found themselves four wins away from one of the toughest things to do in any major sport, repeat.

In the NHL, it hasn’t been done since 1997 and 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings won back to back championships.

The Penguins could be the team to do it and if they do win there will be no doubt that the Penguins define an entire era of hockey alongside the Chicago Blackhawks.

In their way is the team playing the role of David in this story, the Nashville Predators.

The Predators are the underdog in every way as they have never been to this level in the game and are far from that historically great franchise that the Penguins have been.

They are the team representing the non-traditional markets in the NHL and traditionalists might not enjoy them taking home their first Stanley Cup.

When they were first established in 1998 the Predators were a team that a lot of people looked at with scepticism.

Tennessee is not a place that anyone would consider to be a hockey hotbed and some thought that this team was not going to last.

It was during a time of expansion where the NHL was ignoring more traditional markets to expand further across the USA.

With teams moving to California, Phoenix, Atlanta, Dallas and Carolina the NHL was going through a big change.hockey-sidebar

Nashville was just another one of those teams as they expanded the reach of the league but for some, it was sure to be a failed experiment.

They played in relative anonymity not really ever able to make much of an impact throughout the league.

Then in 2009, ten years after their creation, the Predators made the playoffs and began making it a habit.

Although they struggled to make it very far in the playoffs the Predators were a playoff team and continued to be a playoff team.

The non-traditional market began to get hockey fever and “Smashville” was born as they continued to get better.

Now for the first time ever, the Predators are Western Conference Champions despite only finishing in a wild card spot.

After working their way through the minefield that is the Western Conference playoffs the Predators are looking for their first ever Stanley Cup and looking to win another one for the non-traditional markets.

The two teams left are entirely opposites in both their approach and their history and for the fans and the league, it is a very interesting final matchup.

It could be the start of a dynasty in the late 2010s that could match the dominance of the Blackhawks in the early 2010s.

On the other hand, it could be another win by a non-traditional market in two decades that have seen these non-traditional markets begin to compete at the highest level.

It is either parity or dominance this year and in a true David versus Goliath match-up there will be some great hockey and plenty of storylines.

pittsburgh_penguins

The Penguins are looking to be the most dominant team in the NHL by taking their second straight championship. They have all of the pieces to do just that too as they still look to their roster of superstars to lead them. Chief among those superstars the Crosby who is the best player in the sport and leads this team. When he is on the Penguins are a tough team to stop and in the playoffs, he is rarely off. The dangerous part of this team is not just Crosby though, it is the depth of their lineup. The Penguins have four players in the top ten scorers in the playoffs this year and are getting contributions from plenty more. Crosby is, of course, one of these players but Evgeni Malkin leads the way with 24 points so far while Phil Kessel has put up 19 points of his own. These veterans are boosted by a rookie who is leading the league in playoff goals as Jake Guentzel has 9 goals in his first playoffs. The Penguins are the team that everyone wants to build up front because they have more than a couple lines that can produce. It creates real problems for teams because match-ups become tougher for every team when there is more than one main line. Matching the best shut down line against the top scoring line is easy. When there is more than one line that can score teams find it very tough to figure out a way to shut them all down. The Penguins have used that to take control of games as they are never out of it with the offensive power on the team. They aren’t a team without a weakness though as this year the back-end of the team has struggled. It has mainly focused on the net where the Penguins have employed a two-goalie system that rarely pays off. Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray have shared the crease throughout the playoffs but these type of systems are not usually the greatest. It leads to uncertainty and uncertainty in the playoffs is not something that leads to a lot of success. Having one goalie take over and be the starter is usually the best strategy and although it has worked for the Penguins so far it could be the weakness that the Predators can take advantage of in the Finals. The Penguins are a team built for these runs with the best offence in the playoffs and they will look to overwhelm the Predators on the offensive side to take another Cup.

nashville_predators

There aren’t a lot of players on Nashville that have been to this point before as this team has never been this far in the playoffs. They are a team that often falls into the unknown as they are a western team that not a lot of people know that much about. There is always one aspect that most people know about the Predators though and that is the goaltender that the Predators have depended on for years. Pekka Rinne is widely considered to be one of the top goalies in the league year after year. The criticism for the Predators throughout the last few years has been that they depend entirely too much on Rinne to win games. In their long run of playoff appearances since 2009 the same has been said about them, they will only go as far as Rinne can take them. In a way, it has been true this year again as there is no doubt that Rinne is leading this team and is a big reason to why they got this far. If the Predators can win this series there is no doubt that Rinne will be the Conn Smythe winner but the Predators are more than just their netminder. Rinne led the Preds to multiple playoff runs but he has never led them this far. The difference this year is the defence that plays in front of Rinne that takes the pressure off of Rinne and the offence. The Predators hold the best defence in the playoffs with Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and PK Subban leading the way. They are all able to protect the net and shut down very good offences throughout the playoffs. They limited the Chicago Blackhawks to two goals over four games and have only allowed 1.81 goals against per game. They are the shut-down team but they have always struggled on the other side of the puck. That is where Peter Laviolette came in as the franchise’s second ever coach has an offensive mindset that has made the biggest difference in the playoff run this year. Although Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg have enjoyed the new offensive mindset the real change has come on the blue line once again. That is where Josi, Ellis and especially Subban have been not only allowed but encouraged to jump into the offence and provide some scoring depth. The extra offence from players that are geared to provide that offence from the blue line has helped the Predators get this far. They will once again be the focus for this team as the Predators no longer go as far as Rinne will take them but rather as far as the blue line will take them.

scf-prediction

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