If you haven’t yet heard, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2017 Stanley Cup champions. And I will take full credit for partially believing in them, mostly the whole way through. (Yes, you read that right.)
After the Leafs and Hawks were knocked out of Round 1, my focus shifted to the Pens and it only cleared up from there. If you don’t believe me, go back and take a look at my Round 1, Round 2, and Round 3 report cards to see who I was then predicting as the winner the rest of the way.
Most of the focus leading into this series was directed squarely at the Nashville Predators, which likely worked to the Pittsburgh Penguins advantage. That talented of a team, yet all the talk is about the other guys? There was then an underdog mentality that emerged, infusing the air in the Penguins dressing room. Love him or hate him, I’d like to think that if ever there’s a time to avoid giving Crosby more fuel for his fire it’s when he’s about to battle for the epitome of hockey.
Seeing as how there’s now only 2 teams to judge, I wanted to give them the special consideration they’ve earned by making it this far through my report card gauntlet. Never mind just rating their series, they get their own game by game analysis too.
Game 1: Pittsburgh came into this game ready to steal the spotlight back from Nashville – and they did. Scoring 3 quick goals to get the game going, the Penguins looked like the reigning champions that they are (despite the fatigue you’d figure would have set in with all the games they’ve played this year, leading up to the final). That control slipped throughout the latter half of the game though, as the Preds surprisingly scored 3 to tie it up and it seemed it was destined for OT. But it wasn’t. Guentzal sniped short side coming down the wing with 5 minutes to go and the Penguins never looked back. Nashville did their best to beat up on Murray by crashing the crease any chance they got, but the only goalie sore after this was one Rinne.
Pittsburgh wins 5-3.
Game 2: It seems that the Nashville Predators didn’t get the memo about the team they were up against or that this was for the Stanley Cup, because their play early in this series is anything but indicative of them deserving to be here. Most Preds fans will complain that there are a lot of non-calls and unlucky bounces thus far, but that’s sports and it goes both ways (let alone it being part of what helped them get here in the first place). They seemed less hungry in Game 2 than they did in Game 1 and Rinne seems even more tired than he already appeared. The Pens keep doing what they do, as they had no problem scoring more than they needed to.
Penguins wins 4-1.
Game 3: If Nashville fans were feeling a bit down leading into this one, the city gave them every reason to get right back up. Wow. What a celebration. I don’t often like to fall into the cliched theories around circumstances helping a team or home ice advantage really being a thing, but the Predators really infused the energy from around their arena and projected it straight onto the ice and in the faces of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Like a slap that no champion would be able to see coming, the Preds continued their drives to the net, aggressive plays in the corners, and determination to get pucks between the pipes. They finally felt what it was like to score and the city can mark this one in history as not only their first Stanley Cup, but their first win as well.
Nashville wins 5-1.
Game 4: Game 3 was nothing short of pivotal in getting Nashville back into a position that could still ultimately see them hoisting the Cup by the end of it all this year. They went into this one with all the momentum and then some (thanks to their crowds both in and outside of the rink). What seemed to be a lopsided goal scoring affair for the Pens early in the series has certainly shifted throughout Games 3 and 4, with the Preds finally finding a number of ways to mark themselves on the scoresheet instead. It’s safe to say that the crowed, again, helped Nashville through this one as their energy never dwindled and neither did their lead. All tied up at 2 wins each, they head into Game 5 with no one in the driver’s seat.
Preds win 4-1.
Game 5: Since before the puck even fell for this one, I stood strongly on the stance that whoever left the arena with the win in Game 5 could basically already start preparing their parade back home. That’s not to say that I thought it would be easy, for one team or the other, but that it really felt like breaking this 2-2 tie was going to determine it all. Not only did the Pittsburgh Penguins make sure to steal back the moment, but they also showed the Nashville Predators what home ice advantage really looks like as they scored. And scored. And scored some more. Did I mention they also avoided getting scored on, all game? I’d say that’s a good indication of a team looking for redemption, revenge, and bragging rights.
Pens win 7-0.
Game 6: Another first for the Nashville Predators, as Game 6 brought with it their first elimination game in a Stanley Cup final series. As predicted prior to Game 5, I was confident that whoever won going into this one was going to be skating around the rink with the Cup by the end of it. Anyone who watched this game, no matter who you’re a fan of, definitely empathysized with Nashville on that early goal that got called back. However, dwelling on what couldn’t have been would only avoid working on what can still happen. Simply stated, Nashville didn’t score enough to make this one a game (they didn’t score at all). It stayed 1-0 for what felt like an eternity to viewers, but I bet the Predators could have used some more time on the clock with it that close as the Penguins sealed the deal late with an empty netter. The Penguins shut the door on their end, but made sure to squeak through a couple more at the other, as they did what they do best in winning another Stanley Cup away from their arena. So much for home ice advantage in this one, eh Nashville?
Pittsburgh Penguins win 2-0.
This series was everything it needed to be, from a hockey fan’s perspective. Scoring, hits, saves, fights, close games, blowouts, and a series that saw each team bring their best while their fans brought out theirs. I know it didn’t end the way that the Nashville Predtors wanted it to, but there is no shame in looking back to realize that the team that ultimately ended what was otherwise a marvelous season for them was none other than the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
I will take as much credit as anyone is willing to give me for coming to my senses after Round 1 and seeing in the Penguins what they obviously knew they had all along, as they became the team I touted as who would be the ultimate champions by the end of this playoff run. Unfortunately, for me, that focus only avoided all blur after I had already made all of my picks for the pool I was in and the bracket I submitted. If I can’t win any money, I’ll take the comfort of knowing that I had it called the whole way (well, pretty much).
How did your bracket end up?
Did you expect Pittsburgh to win?
Subban says they’ll be back next year – will they?
P.S. It became pretty easy to believe in Pittsburgh’s ability to repeat as the playoffs moved forward, but I don’t think they’ll be able to do it again next year. Do you?