The Stanley Cup Finals feature an experienced goliath and a fierce newcomer this year. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the defending champions and boast home-ice advantage as well as the best player in the league in Sidney Crosby. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators are in their first Stanley Cup Finals since joining the NHL as an expansion team in 1998 and already trail the series 2-0 after back-to-back losses in Pittsburgh.
Hockey is tough to predict, and anyone who makes it to the postseason can get hot and make a deep playoff run. Nashville has proven just that this season by streaking all the way to the Finals despite finishing the regular season with just 94 points, tied with Calgary for the least among playoff teams and 17 behind Pittsburgh who had 111.
So down 2-0, outmatched on paper and historically inexperienced, how can the Predators take four of the next five potential games?
It’s never easy playing on the road in sports, and Nashville has had to start off each series away from home this postseason. After stealing at least one of the first two games in their first three series, they are down 2-0 heading back to Nashville for game three. The good news is that the Predators have one of the best fan bases in all of hockey. In what should be a sell-out crowd, the fan support the Predators have built up over the years will have to bring their A-game for Game 3 on Saturday. If the fans bring some major energy, they can hope their team will respond with better performances.
Get Pekka Rinne back on track
Rinne is one of the best goalies in the NHL, and there is no doubt about it. In the Predators first three playoff matchups, he allowed just 28 goals in 16 games and had a save percentage over .925 in every series. But in his first two games in the Stanley Cup Finals, Rinne has not looked like himself. During Game 1, Nashville allowed just 12 shots on goal, including a massive 37 minute stretch without a single shot on their net during the second and third periods. However, Rinne allowed three goals in the first period before letting in a late goal for the Penguins to retake the lead in the third period and put the game to bed by following it up with an empty-netter to win the game 5-3. In game two Nashville again outshot Pittsburgh, this time 38 to 27. Rinne performed well nearly all game, but at the beginning of the third period he crumbled, letting in three goals in under three and a half minutes and sending the Penguins’ faithful into a ruckus. The Predators ended up losing the game 4-1. If Nashville is going to win Game 3 and really compete in this series, they are going to have to see better performances from their goaltender.
Stay the course
Losing back-to-back games in the regular season is nothing to freak out about, and doesn’t prove to be a death sentence in the playoffs either. Of course the team would never plan to drop the first two games of the organization’s first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, but it is a best-of-seven series for a reason. Pittsburgh will still be hungry, and Nashville needs to remain calm despite their shaky start to the series. If they play afraid, the experienced Penguins team captained by Sidney Crosby will surely pounce on them and run away with the title for a second straight season. Coming out strong and sticking to the gameplan will be crucial for Nashville during games three and four at home.
If Nashville can steady the ship out by winning their two games at home, a 2-2 series going back to Pittsburgh will make for must-watch TV in Game 5. The Penguins know it’s not over until it’s over, the Predators just need to keep that in mind too.