THE USB NHL Postseason Preview: Stanley Cup Final

Hi, hello and welcome to THE USB NHL Postseason Preview! I’ll be real honest with you guys, I did not expect to have an emotional attachment once we got to this round. Everybody expected my team to get eliminated in the first round by the team that has dominated most of this decade. That didn’t happen. My team kept moving on. They’re in the Stanley Cup Final. I still don’t know how to process all of this, but we’re here, and it’s happened.

Fortunately, my hockey father Jeremy Lambert has agreed to join me again for predictions, which is great for us because his predictions have been so much better than mine this entire postseason. I’ve been terrible. He’s been fantastic. If you’re betting on this stuff, you should probably take his advice because I have no idea what the hell I’m talking about. I’m a fan. I’m speaking in tongues at this point. I don’t know what’s going on. He has decades of NHL knowledge. He’s not rooting for one of the teams in this. I would highly suggest skipping to his prediction, unless for some reason you really love my hockey writing.

Stanley Cup Final: Nashville Predators vs Pittsburgh Penguins

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Steve Cook: We had a feeling the Penguins would be here. They were the second-best team during the regular season and perennially have the number of the team that was the best. They overcame injuries and powered through the Blue Jackets, Capitals & Senators to get here. Two 7-game series this postseason and oodles of postseason experience prior means they’ve seen and done it all. The moment will never be too big for them to handle. They have Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. A fresh Matt Murray in goal. There just aren’t a lot of weaknesses here.

They face a team that most people didn’t expect to get out of the first round. But the Nashville Predators have made a living this postseason of overcoming the odds. It’s been a wonderful story, one that even a non-Predators fan can appreciate. The Preds have lost their top center for the rest of the season. Their captain hopes to be ready on Monday, but who knows? Pekka Rinne is the hottest goalie in hockey and has dominated this postseason. The energy of Nashville & the Bridgestone Arena environment has taken the hockey world by storm. A place that some thought would never accept hockey has taken the game and their team into their hearts as much as any fan base out there.

Its been unbelievably awesome to be a small part of it. And believe me, there is nothing I would enjoy more than for the Preds’ run to end with Mike Fisher raising Lord Stanley’s Cup. That would be…Glorious.

Here’s the problem with the idea of a happy ending:

We’ve seen this story before. Earlier this year. We know how it ends.

The establishment-backed New England Patriots came back from 25 points down to win the Super Bowl over the plucky underdog Atlanta Falcons. The parallels here are disturbing if you’re a Predators fan. Atlanta, like Nashville, is a Southern, non-traditional sports market. The Falcons, like the Predators, are a young team that came out of nowhere this season to make the Championship round. Neither franchise has won a championship. Both fan bases get criticism from traditional sports fans for not having been around since the 1950s. The Falcons and Predators are not traditional powers, so a lot of people think they don’t deserve to be there, and wish they would get out of the way of the brand names that dominate the sport.

The Patriots, like the Penguins, are one of those brand names. They’re from the Northeast and get all the media coverage. Both teams have the man widely considered to be the best player in their sport. (Tom Brady, Sidney Crosby) Both teams have a player that even fans that hate their team tend to like. (The Gronk, Phil Kessel) Both fan bases think that the league is out to get them, when almost every bit of evidence proves otherwise. Evidence is overrated in 2017, you see. Both franchises try to be as boring as humanly possible. Both franchises struggled for decades before their recent string of luck, but nobody ever talks about that. Both teams are backed by the establishment, but their fans think that they aren’t.

If the Predators/Penguins series is a direct parallel of the Falcons/Patriots game, like I suspect it is, expect the following to happen:

-Preds come out strong and win Game 1 on the road, as they have in their previous series.
-Pens win Game 2 to preserve a split, as has happened in the last two Predators series & the Penguins’ series with Ottawa.
-Smashville shows out for Games 3 & 4. Taylor Swift & Garth Brooks sing the National Anthem. The entire Titans roster chugs beers and removes their shirts. The fans are even crazier than they have been in previous games. The Preds feed off the energy and win both games.
– The Preds have a 3-1 lead.

You can go ahead and fill in the rest.

Cook’s Prediction: Penguins in seven

Jeremy Lambert: Cook is going with the darkest timeline. I understand it. I’ve had my share of sports heartbreak over the last year or so. The Carolina Panthers went 15-1 only to lose in the Super Bowl. The Oklahoma City Thunder were up 3-1, blew the lead, and then Kevin Durant left to the team that beat them. The Colorado Avalanche were the worst team of the modern era and only got the fourth overall pick. Cook hasn’t experienced that kind of sports heartbreak in a long time. So, he’s probably due.

But not this year.

I’ve been all-in on the Nashville Predators ever since the P.K. Subban trade. Shea Weber is a great player, but Subban gave them a different dimension on the back end. I thought it would be unfair that they could throw out Subban, Roman Josi, or Ryan Ellis on every single shift. And is has been. This team is driven by their defense. Despite the injuries to their offense, they’ve found ways to win thanks to their blue line and the stellar play of Pekka Rinne.

Then, there are the Pittsburgh Penguins. When they traded for Phil Kessel last year, I was all-in on them. Like the Preds this year, I figured it would be unfair that they could throw out Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kessel at any given time. And it was. The Pens offense hasn’t changed a whole lot since last season. They still have three superstars who elevate those around them.

I have no questions about the Predators defense or the Penguins offense. It’s going to be a chess match for the ages as Peter Laviolette and Mike Sullivan try to instigate and stay away from certain match-ups of their top players.

The questions come from the Predators offense and Penguins defense. The Preds are weak down the middle, where the Penguins have Crosby and Malkin. Ryan Johansen and a healthy Mike Fisher would have made things a little less lopsided, but Johansen won’t play in this series and Fisher hasn’t looked like himself. However, the Penguins are banged up on defense. Kris Letang, their best defenseman, hasn’t played all playoffs and Justin Schultz, arguably their best defenseman in the lineup, is a bit banged up. Matt Murray has been strong in net since entering in Game 3 against Ottawa, but he hasn’t been tested like I expect Nashville to test him.

The Penguins have played a lot of hockey in the last year. They won the Stanley Cup last year. They’ve gone seven games in each of the last two series. This is a tired team that has been carried by two all-time greats. As great as Malkin and Crosby are, they haven’t faced a defense, a system or a group as confident as Nashville. The Predators are the 16 seed. They beat three of the top five teams in the West and never trailed in the series. They swept the Western Conference dynasty, a team very similar to the Penguins in how much hockey they’ve played over the years. The Predators aren’t “just happy to be here.’ They’re letting the hockey world know that they’re going to be here for years to come.

Lambert’s Prediction: Predators in six

Penguins. Predators. Does it get better than this? The best team in hockey last season coming back to defend their championship against a team from a non-traditional market that old-school hockey people get mad at for not doing things the old way. A team that has overcome adversity all the way through the playoffs. That dares to have fun while playing the game. That welcomes all fans, young and old, old and new.

TO BE THE MAN…YOU GOTTA BEAT THE MAN!

This is gonna be fun.

pk

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