When you get down to the Stanley Cup Final, especially one as evenly matched as this, it doesn’t take much to swing a series in either direction.
A hot goalie, an unlikely hero or an unfortunate cold streak can make or break a team’s fortunes over a seven-game series.
It’s hard to say what will it come down to this series, but here’s a look at what’s been cooking — and what needs heating up — for both teams heading into the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins’ rookie goalie has been a steadying force since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3 against Ottawa. The 23-year-old has won three of his four starts and has yet to give up more than two goals in a game. Also, that hair…
Let's appreciate Matt Murray's hair for a moment. pic.twitter.com/AVg5WW9VpN
— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) May 24, 2017
It’s not an exciting pick, but the numbers speak for themselves. Filip Forsberg led all players with seven points last round, picking up at least one point in every game, and is currently riding a seven-game point streak. Doesn’t get much hotter than that.
Pittsburgh’s power play
The Penguins struggled to break through against the Senators at even strength, but they feasted with the man advantage. Pittsburgh’s potent PP converted at a 31.6% clip against Ottawa, accounting for six of the Pens’ 17 goals in the series. They have an NHL-best 14 PP goals throughout the playoffs.
Nashville’s power play
Unlike the Penguins, the Predators had most of their success last round at even strength, scoring only two power-play goals on 22 opportunities. And that was against a Ducks penalty kill that had struggled in the playoffs. It’s going to be much tougher against a Penguins unit that allowed only one power-play goal versus Ottawa (yes it’s the Sens, but still).
Pittsburgh’s secondary scoring
When you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, you can get by without much secondary scoring. But the Penguins are going to need more help against Nashville and its stacked defense.
Conor Sheary, he of 23 regular-season goals, is still looking for his first in the playoffs. Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino, who combined for 10 goals and 34 points in 24 games last postseason, have hardly touched the scoresheet during this run. Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel each stepped up in the first two rounds, but were quiet against Ottawa. That’s not going to cut it against the Predators.
With Ryan Johansen on the sidelines, the Predators are in dire straits down the middle.
Yes, de facto No. 1 center Colton Sissons stepped up in a big way when he scored a hat trick in Game 6 against the Ducks, but those were also his only three shots of the series. Mike Fisher, who appears ready to return from injury, gives the Predators some needed depth but he hasn’t recorded a single point in the postseason. Calle Jarnkrok, the No. 3 center, has just one goal and three points in 15 games.
It might not matter much in the end given Nashville’s strength on defense and well-rounded forward group, but it would be unprecedented to win a championship in the modern era with such little firepower down the middle.
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