Mystique vs. mayhem in unlikely Stanley Cup Final

Mystique vs. mayhem in unlikely Stanley Cup Final

Mystique vs. mayhem in unlikely Stanley Cup Final

It's Poile's first Stanley Cup Final after 15 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals and almost 20 years of building the Predators from scratch as an expansion franchise.

The Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the Nashville Predators in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday.

This should be an exciting series. "The guys are excited to reach this point", said the Predators' Peter Laviolette, who along with Penguins counterpart Mike Sullivan are the first American coaches to square off for hockey's top prize. "We're not ideal on some nights by any stretch".

Particularly in Game 1, the Predators having seven days off to the Penguins' three could make a difference early. "In other leagues, they protect star players".

But this postseason has already been a grind. The reigning Stanley Cup champions have made it even without star defenseman Kris Letang.

Hornqvist has not played since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators. But neither have the Pens, especially considering their superior skill - just observe the fact Pittsburgh needed double overtime in Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators to get to the Final. "It gives you confidence as a player when you see someone out there with that capability, because I don't think you put as much pressure on yourself knowing that this guy is capable of changing the game with one play". "Everyone knows that on the planet". That was the headline to the special Stanley Cup Final section in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday, a reference to the Penguins' quest for a fifth Stanley Cup.

The resilient Penguins have two superstars up front, a ragtag group of blue liners and a proven playoff goalie as they seek to become the first back-to-back champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Then they dismantled the Blues in six games before running through the Ducks in a very physical six-game conference final. The Predators lost center Ryan Johansen to a severe thigh injury.

The Preds will need similar contributions from the likes of James Neal, Colin Wilson, Pontus Aberg and even Game 6 hat trick hero, Austin Watson, given that Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson will likely have to line up either against Crosby and/or Malkin.

Matt Cullen doesn't so much practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins as watch them practice.

"I mean, we certainly aren't calling ourselves that", said Predators forward Colton Sissons, "but we've been looking at ourselves with a bit of that underdog mindset, that attitude that we're proving everybody wrong...we just fully believe in ourselves, whatever anybody on the outside of our room wants to call us". It's about the Stanley Cup. "And when it does, when a team like ours puts itself in the position like we have, we have to maximize this opportunity". But the exponential growth of Nashville's celebration of the Predators has become an equally important National Hockey League story.

Big-name against no-name is how some are referring to the matchup between Nashville and Pittsburgh's respective defence. The Predators have dropped three of their past five playoff road games after opening the postseason with three straight victories, fueling a mediocre 11-11-2 record in their past 24 road dates overall. Now they're here again, aware of the stakes but hardly caught up in the hype.

The most notable example was probably the cross-check to the head he received from Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen in the second-round, forcing him to miss the remainder of that game as well as the next one. When it comes to dismissing this seemingly chasm-like difference between these two teams, Nashville and Pittsburgh appear to have found some common ground.

The pick: Penguins in six.

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