No team has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since 1998, a drought the Pittsburgh Penguins can end when they open the best-of-seven series against the visiting Nashville Predators on Monday night. The Penguins are the prohibitive favorites to hoist Lord Stanley’s trophy at the expense of the upstart Predators, who are appearing in their first Stanley Cup Final.
Penguins vs Predators Odds: Pittsburgh -175 (wager $175 to win $100) and over/under 5.5 (for latest NHL odds check out WagerTalk Live Lines)
Stanley Cup Finals, Game 1
Today, 8:00 PM on NBC
PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh features 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, but the players are trying to push aside that historical narrative. “We don’t want to worry too much about whether it’s repeating or going back-to-back,” forward Conor Sheary said. “I think we just want to come into this series and win another round. I think it’s important to just worry about the next game, have a short memory and the first to four wins.” Nashville was the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference and posted the fewest points of any of the 16th playoff participants, but swept Chicago in the opening round before dispatching St. Louis and Anaheim in a pair of six-game series. “When the puck drops, we’ll be ready to play. The guys are excited to reach this point,” said the Predators’ Peter Laviolette, who along with Penguins counterpart Mike Sullivan are the first American coaches to square off for hockey’s top prize.
About the Nashville Predators: The daunting challenge of trying to match up against Crosby and Malkin is exacerbated by the absence 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 and supplied a hat trick in the series clincher against the Ducks, but the Predators will continue to rely heavily on 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 poised to return from injury, Nashville’s strength is at the other end of the ice, with its top four defensemen — Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm — combining for a staggering 39 points in 16 playoff games. Still, the Predators’ hopes likely hinge on 34-year-old Pekka Rinne, who is 12-4 with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in the postseason.
About the Pittsburgh Penguins: Malkin (24 points) and Crosby (20) are running 1-2 in the playoff scoring race and seemingly shine when the lights are brightest — each has won a Conn Smythe Trophy — but Malkin observed that Nashville’s defense will provide the “toughest challenge of my life.” Kessel notched six points in the seven-game series against Ottawa, but fellow 23-goal scorer Sheary has yet to tally 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 backstopped Pittsburgh 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 contests against the Senators.
1. Pittsburgh is 6-for-12 on the power play in the last five games while Nashville converted 2-of-22 against Anaheim.
2. Nashville is 7-1 at home in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in overtime of Game 4 versus the Ducks.
3. Laviolette (2006 with Carolina) and Sullivan (2016) each are vying to become the first American coach to guide a team to two Stanley Cup titles.
Penguins vs Predators Prediction: Penguins 3, Predators 1