The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators meet in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and all signs point to it being a great series.
Who wins hockey’s Holy Grail? Who takes home the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP?
Here are the picks from the Puck Daddy and Yahoo Sports experts:
Sean Leahy (Editor): Predators in 6
I worry about the Penguins and their injury situation. I worry about how healthy they’ll be as Game 1 approaches and I worry about any other injuries messing up their lineup over the course of the series. The Predators are missing their top centerman, Ryan Johansen, and Kevin Fiala, but they’re boosted up by their depth up front and their powerhouse blue line. Pittsburgh’s blue line is shredded, and this is the series where they’ll really miss not having Kris Letang out there and also potentially not having Justin Schultz at 100 percent.
There’s something special with this Predators teams and for all the Penguins have overcome to get through three rounds, they’re running into a team playing on another level right now.
Conn Smythe: Pekka Rinne. Who’s been better or more valuable to his team?
Ryan Lambert (Columnist): Predators in 7
I spelled all this out in Trending Topics, but I think the combination of the Penguins being still-injured, having slogged through two straight seven-game series, and running into a rested team that has been effective at shutting down every opponent in these playoffs makes this mountain a little too difficult to summit.
However, I still think the series is close. None of the teams Nashville faced before this had two lines that could score like the Crosby and Malkin lines, and it’ll be interesting to see how Peter Laviolette deploys his world-class shutdown pairing of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm because of that. Can Josi and Ellis also stop the other line? That’s the key to the series, no question.
Given the fits a low-talent team like Ottawa gave the Penguins at both ends of the ice (albeit only at times offensively), one has to imagine that this series looks more like the one against Washington, where Pittsburgh got shelled but hung on to keep pretty much every game close. That’s a very plausible outcome here as well.
But in acknowledging all these issues, the Penguins are still very good and very well-coached. The Sullivan/Laviolette chess match will be fascinating, and it’ll be fun to watch two elite groups of players go head-to-head.
I’m really looking forward to this Cup Final.
Conn Smythe: If the Preds win, it’s gotta be Pekka Rinne. Which is wild to think about.
You can’t go into a Cup Final with a save percentage north of .940, win the Cup, and not get the Conn Smythe unless your team shoots like 18 percent at the other end. The amount of goals he would have to allow to not-win this award would have to be considerable. He wasn’t world-beating against the Ducks, stopping “only” .925, but if he’s “only” .925 against Pittsburgh, Matt Murray’s going to need to stand on his head to get one over on him.
Justin Cuthbert (Writer): Penguins in 6
Given the uncertain nature of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s not uncommon for teams to exceed the expectations of onlookers from round to round, successfully convincing some while leaving those clinging to their convictions looking foolish.
Saying that, I’m stubbornly taking the Penguins to repeat as Stanley Cup champions for the same reason that I unwisely chose the Anaheim Ducks to beat the Predators in the Western Conference Final. Mike Sullivan will be running out two of the greatest pivots in history out against a collection of opposing centers who, because of the injury to Ryan Johansen, are now slotted incorrectly.
Talent down the middle is the greatest discrepancy in the series, and will be the difference this time.
Conn Smythe: Evgeni Malkin wins the Conn Smythe Trophy for a second time and moves back ahead of Crosby in total playoff MVPs, which surely inspires the captain to lead another title run to make up for lost ground.
Steve Laidlaw (Fantasy Writer): Predators in 6
At this point, there are no narratives that can lose. Either the Penguins hoist their third Cup in nine years, joining the Blackhawks as the most successful team of this generation, or we get a brand new champion in Nashville, a southern expansion success story. The Predators winning would also mean a Stanley Cup for P.K. Subban, the league’s most gregarious player.
The Predators’ loaded defense will have to help their team overcome a significant deficit at the center ice position. They are certainly capable. But the truth is, it would simply be more fun if the Predators won so they are the pick.
Conn Smythe: Pekka Rinne. If a team wins and doesn’t have an obvious candidate amongst the skater group, the goalie becomes the obvious choice. Rinne was an actual wall against the Blackhawks. While he has declined in each successive series, he was still their best player for large stretches of this post-season.
Greg Wyshynski (Editor): Penguins in 7
If Ryan Johansen wasn’t injured, the pick here would be Nashville. That’s a little heartbreaking to write, because his injury was so freakish. But even though the Predators won two games without him, I have a hard time imagining they’re going to win four more, considering the two centers on the other side of the ice.
So why seven games? Smashville. The Preds are 7-1 at home, and it’s not out of the question that this will be a Stanley Cup Final where the home team holds serve. (Maybe this is my unending desire to try and give the regular season a scintilla of relevance.)
But in the end, the Penguins are a team I simply can’t wager against after everything they’ve gone through, and thrived through it. Winning three rounds without Kris Letang. Winning that Game 7 on the road after the Washington Capitals came roaring back from the dead. Overcoming the Ottawa Senators in another Game 7. Playing through injuries and adversity.
There’s a professionalism and poise the Penguins possess that has me believing they’re going to overcome anything the Predators throw at them, and not be shaken by it. In the end, it’ll be a second straight Stanley Cup hoisted by Sidney Crosby.
Conn Smythe: At this point, Crosby, despite the fact that Geno leads the playoffs in points and Sid won last year’s Conn Smythe. Crosby set up huge goals in consecutive Game 7s and has had more important moments in these playoffs, including a goal and an assist in a critical Game 4 road win against Ottawa.