This spring was to be the open season for winning The Stanley Cup.
And why not?
Washington’s Capitals emerged as much a “favorite” as anyone. But, we all know that the Caps always find trouble in the playoffs, especially against Pittsburgh.
As for the defending champions, the Penguins, recent history has told us that no team wins two Cups in succession because of attrition, overconfidence and a tough foe in the Final.
The Blackhawks appealed to a bloc of analysts since their core included Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and an assortment of former champs. But, they exited faster than the breeze in The Windy City.
Ironically, of the nine-member The Hockey News sage editorial panel nobody — not a single voter — selected the Predators as a potential winner.
So, here we are with the Final Round about to begin in Pittsburgh and it pits the amazing current titleholders against the equally stunning Predators.
Talk about an odd couple — hockey-style — well this Pens-Preds finale takes the cake; if not The Cup.
I won’t waste any more of your time; The Maven picks Pittsburgh in six. And here’s why:
1. SIDNEY CROSBY: The erstwhile Sid The Kid has grown up — big-time. He takes punishment without whining; plays tough without concern of suspensions and just happens to still be the world’s best player. And this, despite his many concussions.
2. EVGENI MALKIN: As long as there’s a container of No-Doz in his locker to remind him that this is the Final, the Russian Hulk will add a bullish dimension that Crosby lacks and, by the way, does not need — thanks to Malkin.
3. MIKE SULLIVAN: Man, oh, man has this onetime aide to John Tortorella proven that, yes, a coach sure can make a difference. So far, the New Englander successfully has steered his sextet through more adversity than Captain Bligh on HMS Bounty.
4. PHIL KESSEL: Never in the history of hockey has a player looked less like a super-scorer yet scores like one than this Is-He-Ever-In-Shape right wing. On his game, Kessel completes a Big Three of Crosby-Malkin-Kessel that you wouldn’t wish against any goalie, Pekka Rinne included.
5. MATT MURRAY: He may not yet be a Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur nor Georges Vezina but Double M proved last spring he’s top-notch. And when he replaced Marc-Andre Fleury in the Ottawa series, Murray virtually guaranteed his club a trip to the Final.
6. SPEAR-CARRIERS: Under the Sullivan orchestration, supporting actors suddenly emerge as stars when least expected. Exhibit A is Chris Kunitz in double-OT against Ottawa in Game 7. Then there are the likes of Nick Bonino, Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen, just to name a few.
Which is not to dismiss the Predators out of hand. That would be foolish and unfair to coach Peter Laviolette and his band of warriors.
Anyone who picks Nashville to win its first Stanley Cup can make a good case for such a rare happening and you won’t get arrested for it either. Here’s why:
1. MOTIVATION: From Memphis to Chattanooga, the entire state of Tennessee has become hockey-mad. This lovely infection has seeped into the Preds dressing room. So far, it has produced a rare breed of gung-ho hockey. It will produce extraordinary efforts.
2. FILIP FORSBERG: If this Sweet Swede was playing in either New York or Toronto, he would be the NHL’s headline-grabber. In the meantime, he’s become the heart and soul of the club and as clutch a performer as you’ll ever see on an expansion team.
3. PEKKA RINNE: The one time, perennial Vezina Trophy-finalist has found his previously-lost form and could out-goal Murray; providing he hasn’t lost anything since the Anaheim series. He also has loads more experienced than Double M.
4. P.K. SUBBAN: Granted he’s not a Norris Trophy candidate, but when it comes to effervescence and the ability to prod teammates to even better efforts, this defenseman ranks with the best. His sidekicks such as Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm aren’t too shabby either.
5. PETER LAVIOLETTE: The slick-haired mentor has a track record that’s the envy of many bench bosses. Getting Nashville to the Cup Final for the first time is as solid a credit as anything for voting Pistol Pete coach of the year.
6. SPEAR-CARRIERS: Pittsburgh isn’t the only team with under-the-radar chaps who can break open a game. Don’t look beyond previously-hidden Colton Sissons when it comes to a suddenly-arrived delivery man.
BOTTOM LINE: When a club such as Nashville loses its top center, Ryan Johansen, I can’t imagine it beating a playoff-savvy club paced by Crosby and Malkin. So, I repeat; Penguins in six.
MINORITY OPINION: My buddy, Gus Vic, who sees things clearly and who sees them whole when it comes to Cup Final results, disagrees with my view and favor’s Nashville.
Here’s Vic’s view:
- “The Preds backline has done more to supplement offense than any team since the Capitals with Al Iafrate, Sylvain Cote, Calle Johansson and Kevin Hatcher.”
- “Up front, Nashville has the ability of every skater to play aggressive, in-your-face hockey. The mileage they’ve gotten from Austin Watson, Colin Wilson and Colton Sissons is exactly the type of DNA championship teams need.”
- “Plus, I like the speed pressure game of Peter Laviolette. Finally, I pick the Predators because it just feels like new blood is waiting to be crowned.”