Boys and Girls, we have reached that time of the year that is as magical as it is fleeting, the Stanley Cup Finals. In the next two weeks, men from all walks of life will fight over every square inch of ice to cement their legacy as champions. The teams they represent have dreams of glory; one team on the verge of successfully retaining the Cup for the first time in 20 years, and the other hopes to take it home to one of the most unique fan bases in sports for the very first time. The Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins will bring speed, toughness, and way too much yellow to the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday. Here’s how it will all shake out.
Before we begin, let me (Mason Masters) just say the opinions that follow are mine and are not Zack McCann’s because the only words he’s been able to conjure in his mind since Nashville’s Game 6 victory have been expletives.
The Tale of The Tape:
Nashville Predators- (41-29-12) Swept Chicago, Beat both St. Louis & Anaheim in 6 games each this postseason.
You’re going to hear in the upcoming days that the Predators are the 16th seed in the playoffs. It’s an incredibly stupid quip and anyone who has watched this team in any capacity will roll their eyes if you utter those words. The Predators deserve to be here just as much as the Penguins. They sport the best defensive unit that may have ever been seen in the Salary Cap Era and love to shove the puck down the throats of their victims.
Behind that tremendous two-way defense is goalie Pekka Rinne, who has to be the defacto Conn Smythe favorite going into the finals. Rinne currently sports a save percentage of .941 and a GAA of 1.70 in the playoffs. He has better defensive numbers than actual walls. The 34-year old has shown no signs of cooling off and is hungry for a Cup while still in the prime of his career.
Everyone (including me) loves of talk about Nashville’s defense but don’t sleep on their offense. Expect guys like Viktor Arvidsson and Colin Wilson to pick up the slack for the injured Ryan Johansen. This is a team who loves their system and is comfortable relying on anyone, even you, Colton Sissions, to score big goals in big moments. Speaking of goals…
Pittsburgh Penguins- 50-21-11 Defeated Columbus in 6 games and went the full 7 against both Washington & Ottawa (RIP Ottawa)
As good as Nashville is on the blue line, Pittsburgh might be even better when it comes to attacking it. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel make up the three-headed hydra that sends men running to their mommies at the mere thought of playing them. This year, opposing teams had to also deal with the likes of Justin Schultz and 22-year old wunderkind Jake Guentzel. Nashville will need a monster slayer in order to compete with the A-10 Warthog levels of firepower that the Penguins possess.
Pittsburgh also possesses two netminders that that have both led successful Stanley Cup campaigns. Matt Murray is going to be the starter on Monday, but if he has any issues at any time in this series; don’t be shocked to see Marc-Andre Fleury come in to mop up the mess.
The only thing that Pittsburg seems to be missing is a top-tier defensive pairing. Chris Letang won’t be back to help the Pens, so that means they will have to depend on the young talent that makes up the rest of the defensive roster. But hey, it’s worked out pretty well for them so far.
BEST MATCH UP:
The matchup I think you’ll see most in the series will be Crosby v Subban. The fans from Smashville love to tell anyone who will listen that they don’t simply have one top line, they might have three. This might be true, but they only have one defenseman who can skate with Sidney Crosby, and his name is P.K. Subban. In order to shut Crosby down, Nashville will have to get Subban out of the ice against him as much as possible. Then, Nashville can worry about Pittsburgh’s “second” line with Malkin and Kessel. Hey, if the Nashville defense is as good as we’ve all been saying it is, that shouldn’t be as big as a problem as it looks on paper. That’s a big if though, when it comes to the Stanley Cup Finals.
HOW THEY’RE GONNA DO THIS:
Nashville, you’re the fresher team. Use that. Use your speed and two-way talent on the blue line to shove the puck down the Penguins’ throat. Ottawa’s trap worked pretty well…for three games. Don’t fall into that trap (I’m sorry.) Play with joy. The Defense must lead the offense.
Boys, trust your line mates. We are living in a world where Colton Sissons is a Hat-Trick threat, for God’s sake. Each member of this team is capable of stepping up in the big moment. By this time in the season, most of you have stepped up already. Trust the system, trust your play, trust your judgment.
P.K. Subban, I’m talking to you now. I’ve got a lot to say to you. First off, I love your hats, they’re incredible. Second, this is your moment. All those people in Montreal that hated you for having fun or not looking like a “Traditional” hockey player aren’t watching their team play, they are watching you. So basically, screw those racist losers. Play with a temper but not too much. You’ve taken 5 or 6 penalties in these playoffs that were silly. Silly mistakes will kill you here. Become Sidney Crosby’s shadow. Where he goes, you go, jabbing him in the gut with your stick. I hate to put the pressure on you, but if you don’t personally show up P.K., you won’t be lifting the Cup…and you’ll hear about from everyone and their mother.
Pittsburgh, you’ve been here before. The last time you found yourselves in this position you walked away with the whole stinkin’ thing. This is your championship, the other team just hasn’t figured it out yet. But don’t underestimate Nashville. Remember all the trouble we had stopping Chicago this season? This team destroyed them in round one.
Young guys on defense, you’ve played well above your pay grade. Your wins in the defensive zone along the boards are how we can sustain our attack. Keep pinching in on offense. Trevor Daley, whatever Bugs Bunny secret stuff you’ve been drinking this postseason, keep drinking it.
Sidney, I’m talking to you now. First, I don’t really like you, but I don’t have a good reason for it. I know, I made it weird now, but I’ve got some good advice, so just listen anyway…okay? Cool. So Sid, You know that you’re the best player on the ice at any given moment. You know that Nashville is going to chase you all around the rink trying to slow you down. So play into it. Remember that kid that plays on your line, Guentzel? He’s going to be wide-open four or five times a night because half of the city of Nashville will be crashing to you when you have the puck. Be generous. Spread the wealth, and you will become the first Capitan to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup two years in a row in 20 years.
MASON'S PREDICTION FOR THE FIGHT:
My heart desperately wants Nashville to pull this thing off and take the Cup home to the kookiest fans in the NHL. My heart has also been wrong A LOT this post season, as you may remember from the Podcast. So I'm going with...
Pens in six.
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO:
- Mike Milbury, Don Cherry & other Canadians continuing to rag on guys who are having the time of their lives.
- Tens of thousands of aging, white Southerners below the Mason-Dixon Line actively rooting for the team with P.K. Subban on it.
- Doc: “HOOOO MY, WHAT A SAVE/SHOT/REDIRECT/HIT BY ______________!
- The limpest National Anthem in hockey. Yeah, I said it Pittsburgh. Do something about it.
- Gary Bettman getting booed in Pittsburgh.
- Gary Bettman getting cheered in Nashville, cementing their status as heels of “Traditional Markets.”
- Carrie Underwood having more of an impact on the series than her husband will.
- The Penguins A/V guy trying to start a riot like he did at the end of Game 7 against the Sens.
- Grown men openly sobbing from utter elation.
- Doc: “Isn’t hockey great?”