By Mike Zeisberger – Toronto Sun
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final between the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins will be Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. The two teams have never met in a playoff series.
1. THE FEAT TO REPEAT
In reaching the final for a second consecutive spring, the defending titleholders are attempting to becoming the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. Of course, in order to go back-to-back, the Pens will have to do it without a true No. 1 defenceman after Kris Letang was lost late in the season. Since the Carolina Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006, every champ has sported a stud blueliner including: 2016, Letang, Penguins; 2015: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2014: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; 2013: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2012: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; 2011: Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins; 2010: Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks; 2009: Sergei Gonchar/Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins; 2008: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings; 2007: Scott Niedermayer/Chris Pronger, Anaheim Ducks.
2. CAROLINA CONNECTION
When it comes to winning the Stanley Cup, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette are no strangers to each other. Back in 2006, Rutherford and Laviolette served in those same respective positions with the Carolina Hurricanes and helped bring the Cup to Tobacco Road. Since that time, Laviolette led the Philadelphia Flyers to the 2010 final where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks; while Rutherford’s Penguins won the Cup a year ago.
3. JILTED JAMES?
One of Rutherford’s first acts as GM of the Pens came at the 2014 draft when he traded former 40-goal scorer James Neal to the Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. The trade came within an environment of speculation that there had been chemistry issues within the Pens dressing room. Whatever the case, Neal would like nothing better than to gain retribution against his former team.
Penguins: 50-21-11, 111 points, 2nd, Eastern Conference.
Predators: 41-29-12, 94 points, 8th, Western Conference.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
- Defeated Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1
- Defeated Washington Capitals 4-3
- Defeated Ottawa Senators 4-3
- Defeated Chicago Blackhawks 4-0
- Defeated St. Louis Blues 4-2
- Defeated Anaheim Ducks 4-2
2016-17 SEASON SERIES
Oct. 22: Pedators 5, Penguins 1 @ Nashville
Jan. 31: Penguins 4, Predators 2 @Pittsburgh
ALL-TIME SEASON SERIES
Penguins lead 12-10-2-1
Penguins: 4 (1990–91, 1991–92, 2008–09, 2015–16)
THE BIG MATCHUP
Pens Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin/Phil Kessel Vs. Preds G Pekka Rinne
The Penguins obviously edge in this series comes up front, where the likes of Malkin, Crosby and Kessel can be difference makers on each and every shift they step onto the ice. But they’re up against a formidable force in the Preds crease in the form of Rinne, who has to be considered one of the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe Trophy after leading Nashville to series wins over the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
GOALIE MATT MURRAY, PENGUINS
A year ago, Murray backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup with just 13 regular season NHL games on his resume. Now, after taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators, can he do it again? A second Stanley Cup ring in less than two full NHL seasons would be an incredible way to start a career.
DEFENCEMAN P.K. SUBBAN, PREDATORS
Even though he was one of the most popular players among Habs fans we’ve seen in a long time, the Montreal Canadiens brass decided a shakeup was needed within the dressing room. Subban ended up being the fall guy, dealt in a blockbuster for Shea Weber. Now Subban is in the Stanley Cup final. This will be a huge story on both sides of the border.
G1: May 29 at Pitt
G2: May 31 at Pitt
G3: June 3 at Nash
G4: June 5 at Nash
G5: June 8 at Pitt
G6: June 11 at Nash
G7: June 14 at Pitt