We’re down to the final two teams in the 2016/17 NHL playoffs as the Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling it out with the Nashville Predators for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Penguins are the defending champions while the Predators will be playing in the finals for the first time. Nashville made the playoffs this year as the bottom seeded team with 94 points while the Penguins had 111. History will be made either way. Pittsburgh will become the first franchise to win back-to back cups in the salary-cap era with their fifth championship or Nashville will become the first 16th-seeded team to hoist the trophy. The last team to win two straight Stanley Cups was Detroit in 1997 and 1998.
The Predators enter the series as the NHL’s best defensive team, but they’re without one of their top offensive players in centre Ryan Johansen as well as fellow forward Kevin Fiala. They’re also hoping forwards Mike Fisher and Craig Smith will return from their injuries. Meanwhile, the Penguins will be missing one of their top defenceman as Kris Letang is sidelined, but forward Patrik Hornqvist should be back soon. The teams met each other just twice during the regular season with Nashville winning 5-1 at home in October and the Penguins doubling them 4-2 in Pittsburgh in January. This is the first time they’ve met each other in a playoff series.
Matt Murray has now taken over from Marc-Andre Fleury in net for the Penguins and has posted a 94.6 save percentage in his four starts. Pekka Rinne has started all 16 games for Nashville with a save percentage of 94.1 so this has the potential to be quite a goaltending duel. This may be the first appearance in the finals for Nashville, but their coach Peter Laviolette has already won a Stanley Cup with Carolina back in 2005/06 and he also led Philadelphia to the finals in 2009/10. He’s just the fourth coach in NHL history to take three different teams to the finals.
Pittsburgh has made it this far by eliminating Columbus in five games in the first round and then beating both Washington and Ottawa in the seventh and deciding games. Nashville swept Chicago in four games in their opening series and then took care of both St. Louis and Anaheim in six contests. The Penguins have the edge on the power play during the postseason as they’re success rate is 23.6 per cent and Nashville’s is just 14.9 per cent. The Predators have the edge in penalty killing though at 88.1 per cent compared to Pittsburgh’s 84.9 per cent.
Pittsburgh has scored 2.89 goals per game in the postseason and allowed 2.21 goals against while Nashville has a league-best 2.89 goals for per game and 1.81 goals against. The final series gets underway on Monday, May 29th with games scheduled for May 31st, June 3rd, 5th, 8th, 11th and 14th. All games are set to face off just after 8pm Eastern Time. The two teams have met 25 times in the past with Pittsburgh holding the edge with a record of 12-10-2-1.