Friday, June 02, 2017

Penguins Stanley Cup Final series isn't as close as some make it seem

By Mark Madden
June 2, 2017
Scott Wilson #23 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a goal past Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game Two of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on May 31, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Stanley Cup Final has been exciting, as championship series usually are. There have been some unusual twists and turns.
But the Penguins winning the first two games at home is no surprise.
The No. 2 seed should beat the No. 16 seed.
The non-stop attempt by the national hockey media to hype this series as an even match up is being folded, spindled and mutilated. But it continues, even with the Penguins ahead two games to none: Keith Jones of NBC said the series will return to Pittsburgh for Game 5 tied at 2-2.
That could happen. But I’d bet $100 against a dead catfish that it doesn’t.
Look at what’s happened so far:
Nashville’s vaunted top-four defense corps of Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Eddie Shore and Nicklas Lidstrom are minus-12 total with a goal and two assists.
The “best defense in the NHL”? Not so far.
Predators goalie Pekka Rinne blew both games. Rinne allowed three goals in 3:18 in Game 2, three goals in 4:11 in Game 1. Rinne also allowed Jake Guentzel’s game-winner in Game 1 after not seeing a shot for 37 minutes.
Rinne’s teammates conceded an own goal in each game, and he was beaten by a few slick finishes. But if he’s Nashville’s best player, Rinne can’t implode for any reason, good or bad. Not in the Stanley Cup Final.
Rinne is a great goaltender. Just not against the Penguins. Rinne has zero wins and nine losses as a starter vs. Pittsburgh.
The Penguins didn’t play very well in Games 1 and 2. In fact, they never really found their stride until the third period of Game 2.
But, as champions do, the Penguins have a finely honed sense of opportunism.
More important, they are the No. 2 seed playing the No. 16 seed. The Predators are the worst foe the Penguins have faced in these playoffs.
The Penguins did the postseason backward. They faced the 108-point team, then the 118-point team – followed by the 98-point team and the 94-point team. The 4 seed, the 1 seed, the 12 seed and the 16 seed, in that order.
It didn’t get harder. It got easier.
Things are tight in Nashville.
P.K. Subban predicted a Game 3 win, which smacks more of desperation than inspiration.
Coach Peter Laviolette seems to be wavering between Rinne and backup goalie Juuse Saros to start Game 3 tomorrow, though the smart money is on Rinne (which wouldn’t necessarily be the smart decision).
After Rinne mangled Game 1, the consensus was that if made a few saves early and got a lead Wednesday, he’d be OK. Both those things happened, and Rinne still butchered Game 2. If he comes good, it will be out of nowhere.
The Predators are 7-1 at home this postseason, so they’re counting on their fans to provide a boost tomorrow.
I wonder if any of them can play center?
The Predators are what I thought they were, and what their record dictates they are: Mediocre. During the regular season, they won 41 and lost 41. They are a .500 team that caught fire in the playoffs.
But now the Predators’ flame is flickering. Flickering despite bad puck management by the Penguins, a Penguins’ defensive corps that is struggling to ignite transition (thus largely handcuffing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin), and a Pittsburgh power play that was 0 of 7 in Game 2.
That’s what first-timers finalists do. They lose to defending champions.
If the Predators turn the series around, I’ll have to eat these words. No worries. That won’t happen.
Nashville might win a game, or even two. But the Predators won’t win enough.
Many chose to not see this as the mismatch it is. But it is.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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