After all the fanfare from the days prior, it is Monday and time for Game one. So it is time for me to make some predictions that I am sure will go wrong.
First off, Because of the defense style and players the Predators use, I believe this will go 7 games. The Predators D men are big and quick, most of all they like to react fast and join the rush. That will make for some possible quick strikes.
PK Subban has traditionally been a thorn in the side of the Pens. I would suspect that would still be the case in this series. Nashville will miss Ryan Johansen as he is their best player down the middle. They will probably get Fisher and Smith back which will give them a very healthy team for this time of year. Similar to what the Pens have going on with Schultz and Hornqvist returning and Letang out.
The big question that we will get answered this series is if Pekka Rinne will play like the guy we have seen throughout the playoffs, or will he be the guy the Pens have tortured over the years.
Just opposite of the Predators, the Pens are the best team in Hockey down the middle. They have the most talented set of Centers and forwards in the NHL which will be fun to watch against this group of defensemen.
The Pens also have Matt Murray in net and I am convinced that there is a fraction of Penguins Nation that are so hell bent on seeing Marc-Andre Fleury be the guy between the pipes they would sacrifice Pens losses for that opportunity. I have never seen a fan base so fractured over a goalie situation.
Throughout the season, the Pens were in a good situation having them both because Murray went down with an injury not once, but then to open the Playoffs. Fleury stepped in both situations and played at a high level. Both guys are starters so elevated play is what you would expect.
The defense of the Pens will need to backcheck as well as they have all year long. With the Predators trying to induce some odd man rushes with their D men joining the rush every chance they get, the back check will be important.
The Forwards for the Pens can not miss opportunities that are available to them. They can not hit posts and flip pucks around the cage as often as they did against the Senators. They need to keep the Pressure on Rinne and make him remember all of those bad games against Pittsburgh. He is 1-5-2 in 8 games and gave up 26 goals in those games.
The Predators, although they are missing Johanssen, will still have an ability to score. In game five it was Frederick Gaudreau and Pontos Aberg that stood tall. Then Colton Sissons with a Hat trick in game 6. This series the Preds will get back team captain Mike Fisher and Craig Smith. A lot has been made of the return of Fisher, but in his 14 games in the playoffs this season, he has no points at all and is -1 while on the ice. James Neal will be looking to show Pens Ownership just how good a scoring threat he is.
The Pens and Predators trade exchanging Neal for Hornqvist has worked out for both teams. I think the two of them will have a lot to say about who wins this series.
I believe that the Nashville Predators will feed off the energy they have created and the defense will make it hard on the Pens to score in Nashville. I think this series will be won in every case by the home team. I believe we will see 3 overtime games, and at least one of them will go multiple overtimes. Rinne averages giving up nearly 3.5 goals a game against the Pens. If the Pens can score 3 or more in any of the games, they have the advantage. Nashville can not survive a shootout with the Pens.
Prediction: Nashville has won game 1 in each of their playoff series. That ultimately has propelled them to wins in those series. But That trend ends today as the Pens will win tonight and Win the series in 7. Sidney Crosby will score 4 goals in the series and Geno will be the most physically Dominant player on the ice because of his size, strength, and determination. Jake Guentzel will break through and score a couple of goals. More importantly, he will make it hard on Nashville with his speed and ability to slip in an out of trouble. Connor Sheary will also score and we will see Crosby reunited with Sheary and Guentzel. Matt Cullen will play the series of his life, and because I believe this goes 7 games, he will be the reason at the end they win this series. He will convert a deciding goal during game 6 or 7.
If this series goes 7 Nashville will win all their games at home, and one will be handily. Maybe 5-1 which would be the same score they won by in their only home game against the Pens. Rinne will get replaced once in this series, it will be an away game which could end up being bad for the Pens because the back up goalie ate the Pens up in Nashville. James Neal will work his dirty play into the series with a crappy hit or with an after the whistle stick play. He is a emotional player that makes bone headed plays by nature and I believe that his emotion will hurt him and his team.
The Nashville coach Peter Laviolette knows how to play to get under some of the Penguins skin as we saw him deploy these methods against the Pens in the past with other teams he has coached. It will be important for Mike Sullivan to keep everyone’s emotions in check.
At the end of the day, it will be a great series but the Pens will be too driven for the predators to win. The experience factor will be the difference and the Pens will ultimately win the cup.