Nashville (0-0) at Pittsburgh (0-0)
When: Monday, May 29th 2017
Where: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Time: 8:05 ET | TV: NBC
The Pittsburgh Penguins begin their quest for back-to-back Stanley Cup titles when they battle the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the finals on Monday night. The Penguins are the odds-on favorites to hoist the trophy at the expense of the Predators, who are appearing in their first Stanley Cup Final ever. The Penguins finished off a pesky Ottawa team in seven games to reach the finals after a seven game series win over rival Washington in the previous round. Pittsburgh boasts the top three scorers in the postseason in Evgeni Malkin, captain Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, and is the first team to reach the Cup Final in back-to-back seasons since the Penguins in 2008 and 2009. Malkin (24 points) and Crosby (20) are running 1-2 in the playoff scoring race and each has won a Conn Smythe Trophy, but Malkin said that Nashville’s defense will provide the “toughest challenge of my life.” Kessel recorded six points in the seven-game series against Ottawa, but fellow 23-goal scorer Sheary has yet to light the lamp in the playoffs while Jake Guentzel is mired in an eight-game goal drought after scoring nine times in the first 11 games of the postseason. Matt Murray, who led the Penguins to a championship a year ago following a late-season injury to Marc-Andre Fleury, reclaimed the starting job from Fleury in the Ottawa series and went 3-1 with six goals allowed in his four starts. Forward Patric Hornqvist, acquired from Nashville in exchange for forward James Neal in June 2014, is a game-time decision after sitting out the final six games against the Senators.
Nashville was the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and posted the fewest points of any of the 16 playoff participants. The Chicago Blackhawks were probably looking ahead to the second round, but the Predators swept them easily in the opening round before getting by St. Louis and Anaheim in a pair of six-game series. Head coach Peter Laviolette, who along with Penguins counterpart Mike Sullivan are the first American coaches to square off in the Stanley Cup. Laviolette (2006 with Carolina) and Sullivan (2016) are also trying to become the first American coach to guide a team to two Stanley Cup titles. The challenge of trying to match up against Crosby and Malkin will be even harder without the presence of top-line center Ryan Johansen (thigh), lost for the rest of the playoffs after Game 4 against Anaheim. Colton Sissons stepped in for Johansen in a big way and recorded a hat trick in the series clincher against the Ducks. Nashville will look to a more veteran presence in Filip Forsberg, a 31-goal scorer during the regular season who scored five times against Anaheim and is riding a seven-game point streak. While No. 2 center Mike Fisher appears set to return from injury, Nashville’s strength is at the other end of the ice. Their top four defensemen of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm have combined for an amazing 39 points in 16 playoff games. Yes, those are defensive players’ stats. Backing them up on defense is netminder Pekka Rinne, who is 12-4 with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in the postseason.
Much has been talked about how good Nashville has been at home this postseason (7-1). What I find more impressive is that they’ve won three straight Game 1’s on the road to establish themselves a threat each series. Rinne has played awesome and the defense has been remarkable. The Penguins offense has scored two goals or fewer in eight of their last 12 games. I like the Predators to steal one of these first two games.
Pick: Predators +145
HEAD TO HEAD
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