Sunday, May 20, 2018

Predators vs Penguins: SCF Game 1 Predictions

It’s Stanley Cup Final time. Predators. Penguins. Game 1 in Pittsburgh. Let’s do this.

May 29, 2017 – NHL Schedule
Predators vs Penguins
ML +145 / -165
O/U 5.5

Here are tonight’s starting goaltenders, courtesy of LeftWingLock.

Unlike the start of the Eastern Conference Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins were allowed a little time to breath after their Game 7 double-overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators. It was nothing grand- three days of rest and preparation for the Stanley Cup Final.

It seems like nothing compared to the six days that the Nashville Predators earned by dispatching the Anaheim Ducks in six games.

Rest was key in Game 1 of that Eastern Conference Final. The Senators were able to pounce on a Penguins team still a bit tired and a lot banged up from their seven-game series with the Washington Capitals.

More importantly, the Senators were able to capitalize on the fact that the Penguins were not quite ready for Ottawa’s style of play.

Nashville experienced the same thing in the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks. The only difference was that the Preds were the beneficiaries of that situation. They topped the ducks in Game 1.

Pittsburgh is too seasoned to truly kill with just one loss, no matter how demoralizing. Even when down 1-0 and 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins fought back with nary a worry. But Nashville can put themselves in the driver’s seat with a big performance tonight.

The way to do that is to ram their speed down Pittsburgh’s throat. Without Ryan Johansen in this series, that duty falls on the shoulders of Filip Forsberg, currently riding a seven-game point streak, and Viktor Arvidsson. Arvidsson, despite having five assists in the Western Conference Final, did not score a goal.

Game 1 is where the big names can set the tone and leave their mark on the series. Forsberg is red-hot. Arvidsson is overdue for a goal. James Neal is a consistent shooting threat. Mike Fisher has yet to register a point in 14 games.

It’s clear that Fisher’s presence is important to the Predators as a team. Naturally. He’s the team captain for a reason. His return from an eye injury is big from an emotional standpoint, but at the end of the day Nashville needs more from Cap. Fisher cannot finish this series pointless now that he’s going to be back in the top six. That would be devastating.

The Penguins were trained to play a more conservative team in the Eastern Conference Final. The Predators, like the Senators, are incredibly well-coached in the defensive department and love employing a neutral zone trap when leading in games. So while the Pens may not have had as much time as they would have liked to adapt to the new opponent, they are not coming in blind.

The only difference is, as Chris Kunitz said after Game 7, that the Nashville Predators have “four Erik Karlssons” as opposed to just one. Subban, Josi, Ekholm and Ellis top Karlsson, Ceci, Methot and Phaneuf any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

While speed is certainly the name of the game in this series, physicality will play an important role as well. Crunching through the middle of the ice will be significantly harder for the Penguins so long as Patric Hornqvist, one of their best net-front players, is out of the lineup. If he does happen to return, it opens the door for one of the more interesting narratives of the series: Hornqvist going up against his old team and the man he was traded for, James Neal.

Plus, with all of the injuries and players bouncing in and out of the Pittsburgh lineup, every hit is even more dangerous. The Predators are coming off a ridiculously hard-nosed series for a Conference Final. They are unafraid to take the body.

So someone better wrap Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz in bubble wrap before they hit the ice. If they go down, this series could be over quick.

But that’s thinking negatively.

The big names win games early in the series. The depth players become more important with each passing day. The Pens are in the unique position that some of their depth players are still considered big names, like Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin. Whereas Bonino and Hagelin were two-thirds of the most effective line in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, they have been quiet since being relegated to the bottom six. Losing Phil Kessel from the “HBK” line hurts that.

Bonino had just two assists, both from the same game, in the Eastern Conference Final. He has five points this postseason. Carl Hagelin missed time with a knee injury and since returning has exclusively played fourth-line minutes. He has just one goal in the Washington series in 11 games.

While Haggy’s speed is usually invaluable, his lack of impact on the puck and on the penalty kill coupled with the (inexplicably) exceptional play of Carter Rowney and Scott Wilson could make him the odd man out should Hornqvist return.

The over/under is an ambitious 5.5 tonight, which is bold for the first game of any series let alone the Stanley Cup Final. But there’s reason to believe that offense will come tonight. After all, Pittsburgh and Nashville are first and second respectively in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in goals-for per game (Pittsburgh at 3.05, Nashville at 2.94).

Plus, their two meetings during the regular season were high-scoring affairs. In their Tennessee meeting in October the Predators put up 5 goals and chased Marc-Andre Fleury from the game after two periods. With Murray hurt, they instead faced current Sens backup Mike Condon for the final frame. They played again in Pittsburgh on January 31st with the Pens coming out on top 4-2. Matt Murray stopped 37 of 39. Patric Hornqvist had a pair of goals.

In four games against the Preds as a Penguin, Hornqvist has three goals and an assist. James Neal since becoming a Predator has two goals and an assist against his former squad. The Penguins are 3-1 in those four games.

Pittsburgh has won eight of their last 10 against the Predators dating back to 2010, for what it’s worth. But history matters very little right here, right now.

As long as Nashville can stay out of the box, they can be highly effective. But I see the Penguins capitalizing on opening-game jitters on home ice tonight. It is Nashville’s first dance, after all. We saw it in the Pens’ 3-2 victory over San Jose in Game 1 of last year’s Cup Final, also held in Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Take the Pens to win tonight. Play the under.

To make a play on Game 1, visit our sports book at https://www.betdsi.eu/gms-hockey.

About Casey Bryant

Casey is GetMoreSports' resident hockey fanatic and host of "Jersey Corner" on the GMS YouTube channel. He is the play-by-play voice of Marist College Hockey and the New York AppleCore. He currently works as a traffic coordinator for MSG Networks. Steve Valiquette once held a bathroom door for him.

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