ATN Hockey

The Nashville Predators continue their extraordinary run as they go on to face the defending Cup champs, The Pittsburgh Penguins for this season’s title.

Here’s how the teams match up.

GOALTENDING

After a few years of inconsistent play Pekka Rinne has found his game at the right time and low and behold the Predators netminder is the frontrunner for the Conn Smythe trophy which is awarded to the playoff MVP. He has been everything the 6’5 Finnish goalie used to be when he was a regular nominee for the Vezina Trophy.

The Preds are a team that is built from the net out and if there is a dent in the armour in net the whole team will feel it. Nobody in Nashville is more important to their team’s success than Rinne.

On the other end is a young Matt Murray who is on the cusp of winning his second Stanley Cup while officially playing in his rookie season. Murray didn’t play enough games last year to be considered a rookie. Since his return in the last series, the Penguins team as a whole, has looked more structured and calm, which is the style Murray plays. Like Rinne, Murray is a tall, lean goalie who has the ability to steal a game or two.

While I do give the edge in goaltending to Nashville it isn’t by much. Both netminders are very capable and this battle will be a good one to watch.

DEFENSE

The Preds D corps is pretty much the best in the league, particularly their top four consisting of Josi and Ellis followed by Subban and Ekholm. This team is built from the net out and the next best attribute is their defense. They have been receiving great offensive output from their blueline and I have no doubt that will continue in this series. All of their top four D are in their twenties and in the primes of their careers. Ekholm has been so strong the last couple of series and has taken personal steps forward in his game. This is the best hockey he has played in his career. The same can be said for Ryan Ellis.

P.K Subban was part of the biggest trade of the summer of 2016 and in Nashville, Subban is not the number one D-man which has turned him into a better player. He doesn’t have the pressure on him that he did in Montreal and can focus on the details which has done wonders for his overall game.

Pittsburgh has had to battle through this postseason without Kris Letang the team’s top blueliner and one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.

In game seven of the conference final the Pens got Justin Schultz back and he is someone who can skate the puck out, make a good first pass, and get shots through from the point. Schultz scored a goal and an assist in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals and may have been the difference between the Cup finals and cleaning out your locker for the season.

However you want to slice it and dice it, Nashville has a big advantage on the blueline over Pitt.

OFFENSE

As big as the advantage on the blueline is for Nashville it is just as large if not larger for Pittsburgh when it comes to forwards.

This team is built around the best player in the world Sidney Crosby, and Pitt’s second line center is also one of the league’s top 5. Add Phil Kessel to the mix who has had another great playoff run this spring and it is no wonder that Pitt is back in the finals.

The Pens have great depth players who play their role well. Guys like Matt Cullen who at the age of 40 is still killing penalties, blocking shots, and grinding it out with players half his age in search of his third Cup ring. The youngsters like Sheary and Rust haven’t been quite as productive as last spring, but still have a chance to contribute and certainly have the skill to finish.

On the other side the Preds are going to be without their best forward Ryan Johansen. This will be a huge feat to overcome, but if there was ever a team that looked destined to overcome anything it is the 2017 Nashville Predators. Words like resilient, gutsy, and determined come to mind when thinking about this club who is the first 16th seeded team to get the finals and if they win will be the first to accomplish that as well.

Mike Fisher’s return is still in question and having that experience will be beneficial to the young Preds. They can’t count on a Hat Trick from Colton Scissons every night, but they are going to need guys to step up and fill the net.

I believe that this will go six or seven games, and that the extra rest that Nashville has enjoyed throughout the postseason will be a factor.

It will be exciting to watch a defensive built team go against an offensive one and who will come out on top will of course lend to the argument of how to win championships.

Buckle up and enjoy The Stanley Cup Finals. The most intense round of the most intense postseason in all of sports.

Keep your sticks on the ice,

Cam Gore

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