By David Song, June 2, 2017 –
Though no Canadian team is currently vying for the Stanley Cup, this year’s NHL Final gives fans north of the border something to cheer for. For the first time, the Nashville Predators are representing the Western Conference in the Final. They are confronting the Eastern Conference giant and defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins prevailed 5–3 in a Game 1 that saw Nashville come back from an early three-goal deficit. The Predators battled hard in Game 2 but lost 4–1 after a series of defensive breakdowns early in the third period. Still, Nashville’s ability to heavily outshoot a dominant Pittsburgh squad for long stretches merits attention.
Pittsburgh is a compelling team to root for. They are deep and well-rounded with talent in all positions. At their best, the Penguins dominate opposing defences with overwhelming speed, precision passing and an explosive attack. Of course, this attack is led by franchise centre Sidney Crosby, the Nova Scotian who led Team Canada to an Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Widely hailed as the best player in his sport, Crosby’s immense skill gives Canadians another reason to cheer for Pittsburgh.
But Canadian fans shouldn’t overlook Nashville. They too have a national star in P.K. Subban, who arrived in a one-for-one trade that sent Shea Weber to Montreal. The Predators lack the Penguin’s offensive talent but compensate with a dynamic blueline anchored by Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Nashville can be just as effective as the Penguins when these defencemen join the attack, since all four of them are talented skaters who can deliver devastating slap shots.
Nashville’s underdog status is also worth supporting. Despite being the lowest seed in the playoffs, they swept the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Their winning continued as they overpowered the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks to earn their place in the Final.
Nashville injects new blood into the Stanley Cup Final. After years of watching Chicago alternate championships with the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville’s advancement feels important. This parity livens the NHL, adding an element of unpredictability and ensuring that contenders will be tested every year.
The Predators are a dynamic and resilient team who are finally hitting their stride. Despite two early losses, they won’t go down quietly. If Nashville can upset the defending champions, they will shake the NHL’s power rankings going into next season, giving fans even more to look forward to. For these reasons, Canadian hockey fans should pay close attention to the Predators down the stretch.