Preds will face Pens for NHL Cup

Thus far in the playoffs has been an interesting, none-the-less crazy ride to the Stanley Cup Final. There have been rounds filled with four plus overtime games in each series, a familiar face in the finals knocked out in the first round, a familiar face getting knocked out before the conference finals, amongst many gregarious storylines that have peaked the interest of fans around the league. Even Charles Barkley has stated that the NHL playoffs have been much more intriguing than that of the NBA.

The conference finals began last Friday and have slowly moved along toward the final seven games of the season. Nashville, Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Ottawa are the last teams remaining. I will pick the teams to move on to the Stanley Cup and who will win the last game of the season.

Western Conference

The Nashville Predators have surpassed all expectations so far. No one thought they could beat the Chicago Blackhawks, and no one even imagined them sweeping. The mighty St. Louis Blues came up next,  but P.K. Subban and company were able to hold back the arch madness and win the series modestly, 4-2.

The Predators, like every great team to win the cup, have a stellar line combination. The “JOFA” line, with Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson lead the team in points, goals and assists. The emergence of the line has been a long time coming and features three young stars that are poised to soon take over the league.

The only thing that is more important than a great front line that can score at will is a solid tender that can stop at will. As a Detroit Red Wings fan, hearing the name Pekka Rinne fills my insides with frustration. From the years playing the Preds in the Western Conference playoffs and getting shot down time after time has built up my hatred for Pekka, but I will say his mindset and will between the pipes has led the Predators to where they are now. With his only shaky start being in game two, Pekka’s brilliance is the reason Nashville is where it’s at now.

Nashville is starting to come together as a Western powerhouse, but the only thing standing in its path is the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks are a playoff veteran team. The past decade they’ve had to watch themselves rise and fall after winning the cup in ’06, struggle to make it into the playoffs and then watch their arch rivals the LA Kings win it a couple times themselves.

After a couple seasons of turmoil and heartbreak, The Ducks were able to add Ryan Kesler a few years ago in the offseason, and his ability to get under opponents’ skins has been his most valuable asset to the team. Pestering and prodding Ryan Johansen was the key element to shutting down the JOFA line and propelling their way to a 5-3 in game two. From elbows to the dome and punches to the groin, Kesler was able to control Johansen using intimidation and anger to his advantage.

It is something that was sought after in old time hockey, but not as useful anymore. If the league can put a stop to this, or not, it will be interesting to watch and may very well be a game changer.

The other key component to the Ducks finally moving on to the finals is goalie John Gibson. A lesser known goalie in the league, Gibson’s mediocre performance in the net through the playoffs thus far has been the difference maker. After a solid outing in game two, the good Gibson will be needed the rest of the way.

Eastern Conference 

After handing the Capitals another summer of wondering if they’ll ever make it past the semifinals, the Pittsburgh Penguins have another tough job ahead of them. The Ottawa Senators making it through so far has been a surprise to many, and not a lot are aware of the potential within the team.

The Sens, like the Preds, have a great young defenseman, a great goaltender, and a good production line. Erik Karlsson is one of the premier offensive defensemen in the game. Karlsson led the team and points during the regular season and is currently doing so during the playoffs as well. The Norris Trophy winner runs the point as well as any defender in the league, and his puck movement is what makes his play so versatile.

The Sens don’t have a Sidney Crosby or Phil Kessel on their team, but the lack of superpower is what allows for them to be one team, woven together with great chemistry and underlooked by their opponent.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Penguins are led by superstars. The defending champs have a great offensive front with Crosby, Kessel and Malkin among others. Their only problem going ahead is the lack of a great defense.

Kris Letang isn’t what he used to be, and Marc-Andre Fleury in my eyes doesn’t deserve the starting spot. He’s a washed up goalie who is somehow playing over a struggling Matt Murray. Even though the young goalie is struggling, if the Sens play their cards right, they can tear apart Fleury.

Bad goaltending and mediocre defense aside, the Penguins can go back to back based on their great offense. The skill level off the faceoff is what has gotten the Pens to where they are today, and should keep them going a little while longer. If the Penguins start to get hot, it will not be easy for Ottawa to keep up.

Predictions 

First off, the West. I like the Ducks offensive power and determination to win at all costs, but Nashville is too hot right now. Coming off their first trip to the conference finals, I don’t see how the Predators can be torn down by any team. If they continue to play like this, nobody will be able to beat them.

The East is a little more complicated than that. The Sens are a team that can take anyone by surprise, and I don’t think that the Penguins are taking them all too seriously. If anyone can knock off the Penguins, it would be the Senators, but I don’t see that happening. The Penguins are just too good.

Both the Preds and Pens win in six games to advance to the Cup final.

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