In­trigu­ing sto­ry­lines for Stan­ley Cup fi­nal

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTING LIFE - KEVIN ALLEN

PITTS­BURGH — The Stan­ley Cup fi­nal be­tween the Nashville Preda­tors and Pitts­burgh Pen­guins starts Mon­day (8 p.m., CBC, Sport­snet, NBC). Here are seven rea­sons this se­ries is an in­trigu­ing matchup:

1. BIG DOGS VS. UN­DER­DOGS: The Pen­guins are try­ing to be­come the first team in 19 years to re­peat as Stan­ley Cup cham­pi­ons. In the past 10 years, the Pen­guins have been to the con­fer­ence fi­nal five times and reached the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal four times. They are try­ing to win their third Stan­ley Cup in that span. A decade ago, the Preda­tors were hold­ing ral­lies to save the team. This is the first time they’ve ever been to the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal. They had never been to the con­fer­ence fi­nal be­fore this sea­son.

2. STEEL CITY VS. MU­SIC CITY: Pitts­burgh’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of Amer­ica’s great sports towns is fully es­tab­lished. You can’t go 25 feet in Pitts­burgh with­out see­ing some dis­play of af­fec­tion for their Pen­guins. On play­off game days, peo­ple proudly wear the colours. But the exponential growth of Nashville’s cel­e­bra­tion of the Preda­tors has be­come an equally im­por­tant NHL story. The na­tional tele­vi­sion au­di­ence may be sur­prised by what a hockey town Nashville has be­come. 3. THE SID­NEY CROSBY SHOW: Any time a sport’s No. 1 player reaches the cham­pi­onship se­ries, it’s a win­ning for­mula. Ask the NBA. Crosby’s pres­ence adds a sub­plot be­cause the Preda­tors don’t have a No. 1 cen­tre to match Crosby. Their No. 1 cen­tre, Ryan Jo­hansen, is in­jured. How ef­fec­tive Crosby will be in this se­ries is an im­por­tant fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing who wins. 4. GANG OF FOUR: Based on their per­for­mance in this post-sea­son, Nashville’s top de­fence­men Ro­man Josi, P.K. Sub­ban, Ryan El­lis and Mat­tias Ekholm have to be con­sid­ered the NHL’s best top four. Those four have com­bined for 38 points in the play­offs. Their col­lec­tive plus-mi­nus is +27. In ad­di­tion to gen­er­at­ing of­fence, they min­i­mize prime scor­ing chances. They all can all de­fend.

5. MADE IN AMER­ICA: This Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal marks the first time in NHL his­tory that both coaches are Amer­i­cans. Pitts­burgh’s Mike Sul­li­van and Nashville’s Peter Lavi­o­lette were both born in Mas­sachusetts. The NHL cur­rently has only six Amer­i­can-born coaches. Sul­li­van’s birth­place of Marsh­field is 80 kms from Lavi­o­lette’s home­town of Franklin. It means that an Amer­i­can coach will win the Stan­ley Cup for the sev­enth time. Lavi­o­lette (2006, Carolina) and Sul­li­van (2016, Pitts­burgh) have pre­vi­ously won, along with Bill Ste­wart (1938, Chicago), “Badger” Bob John­son (1991, Pitts­burgh), John Tor­torella (2004) and Dan Blysma (2009).

6. GOALIE WARS: Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is re­ceiv­ing con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion be­cause of his gaudy num­bers (1.70 goals-against av­er­age and .941 save per­cent­age). He has given up one or no goals in eight of Nashville’s 16 play­off games. But Pitts­burgh goalie Matt Murray’s save per­cent­age is .945 since he re­gained the starter’s job four games ago. He has yet to give up more than two goals in a game. Murray has won 18 of his 25 starts in the play­offs. That’s a .720 win­ning per­cent­age. The Pen­guins don’t be­lieve they are at a dis­ad­van­tage in net.

7. CAR­RIE’S TEAM: The cham­pi­onship se­ries is draw­ing at­ten­tion be­yond its usual sphere of in­flu­ence be­cause of the Preda­tors’ re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try mu­sic in­dus­try. It’s not only be­cause Preda­tors cap­tain Mike Fisher is mar­ried to Car­rie Underwood. Many coun­try stars, such as Vince Gill, Keith Ur­ban and oth­ers, are seen reg­u­larly at games. The acts the Preda­tors bring to their stage in the stands be­tween pe­ri­ods are im­pres­sive to say the least. Spec­u­la­tion about who will sing the na­tional an­them be­fore each game in Nashville has be­come one of the post­sea­son’s big­gest sto­ries. The Preda­tors don’t an­nounce it un­til the per­former walks on the ice. Underwood, Ur­ban, Kelly Clark­son and Tr­isha Year­wood are among those who’ve al­ready sung.

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