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The newcomers will look to take down the old guard next week, as the Nashville Predators are set to face one of the NHL’s marquee franchises in the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville will take the ice for the first time in franchise history in a final, while the Penguins are back for a second straight season. The Predators took just 16 games to reach this point, but both teams are beat up. The Penguins endured a pair of physical seven-game scuffles with the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators.

However, both teams can still play a contrasting, yet exciting brand of hockey that should make this an excellent series.

Let us take a look at the television information for the upcoming series, as well as a preview of how these teams match up to each other.

     

Game 1 (at Pittsburgh)

When: Monday, May 29 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBC (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 2 (at Pittsburgh)

When: Wednesday, May 31 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBCSN (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 3 (at Nashville)

When: Saturday, June 3 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBCSN (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 4 (at Nashville)

When: Monday, June 5 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBC (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 5 (at Pittsburgh)

When: Thursday, June 8 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBC (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 6 (at Nashville)

When: Sunday, June 11 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBC (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

Game 7 (at Pittsburgh)

When: Wednesday, June 14 at 8 p.m. ET

Viewing Guide: NBC (Live Stream at NBC Sports Live)

     

Series Preview

Much like the Western Conference finals, this series will pit arguably the league’s most complete defensive team in Nashville against a high-powered Penguins team.

Pittsburgh led the league is goals per game this season with 3.39, and it continues to score at a high pace by topping all postseason squads at 3.05 tallies per contest. The Penguins boast a complete lineup that features three superstars in Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin as well as a slew of stout support players like Jake Guentzel, Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust.

Malkin is looking like a legitimate threat to snatch his second career Conn Smythe Trophy with 24 points in 19 games. He is Pittsburgh’s greatest offensive threat individually, as arguably no other player in the league can create as much by himself, as seen here from NHL.com:


Sidney Crosby still has 20 points despite missing a game in the second round. Defensively, this group is providing excellent two-way play even without Kris Letang. Justin Schultz is leading that charge, as he is molding into the player that entered the league in 2012 as one of the most touted college athletes in recent memory. He has 10 points despite missing four games after going off for 51 in the regular season.

The Penguins were able to grind out a series win against a defensively-focused Ottawa team that sat back as a unit and clogged the middle of the ice to force turnovers, but Nashville will be a different challenge. The Predators boast the NHL’s best top-four defense group in Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban.

All four players play physical, effective defense while being able to fuel the rush with their legs or smart, quick breakout passes. This forces the opposition to overthink and hesitate at times since a turnover or positional breakdown can turn into a chance at the other end.

Having Pekka Rinne backing that defense helps, too. The Finnish goaltender leads all players with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage. He has been outstanding, but he could face some trouble in a Penguins team that have frustrated him in the past, per 93.7 The Fan’s Colin Dunlap:


Both teams have dealt with injuries, but a recent rash of misfortune may have major ramifications for Nashville.

Ryan Johansen, the centerpiece of the team’s top line with Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, is out for the remainder of the playoffs. This leaves a major hole for a team that lacks much scoring depth behind the aforementioned trio, as he led the team with 13 points in 14 games before going down.

Offensive concern became very evident in Nashville’s Game 6 win over Anaheim. The Predators won 6-3 despite being terribly outshot 41-18. If not for Rinne, the team may not even be in this position after such a poor performance.

Is this an anomaly or a sign of things to come? Pittsburgh can match Anaheim’s firepower, and it also has a much stronger goaltending situation with Matt Murray, or Marc-Andre Fleury, than the Ducks’ underwhelming pair of Jonathan Bernier and John Gibson that each posted GAAs above 2.59. Mike Fisher and Craig Smith, two key checking players, are also banged up, and their official statuses for Game 1 are not yet known.

One area Pittsburgh does have a distinct advantage in is experience, as most of its current squad went on a Stanley Cup run a year ago. It also helps to have Crosby, a player few can match on the biggest stage, per Sportsnet:


Head coach Mike Sullivan commented on the team’s resolve after Game 7. His group never seems to fold, even after the juggernaut Capitals rolled the Penguins for two straight wins to force Game 7 or when the Senators scored late to force overtime on Thursday night.

“It’s been a hard—it’s been a really hard playoffs,” Sullivan said, per USA Today‘s Kevin Allen. “I give this group of players so much credit. They find ways to win, and we’re not perfect on some nights by any stretch. But this group of players has a will to win as a group more so than any other group I’ve been around.”

Nashville has pretty firmly controlled all three of its series so far, so it will be interesting to see how they handle possible adversity against this experienced and talented Pittsburgh squad. The Penguins get the nod between these even teams because of what they have proved, but expect the Predators to ride their current wave of success to create a phenomenal Stanley Cup Final.

      

Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.



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