The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators will meet Thursday to decide who’ll represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators decided to punch their ticket a little early and avoided the drama of a Game 7.
While the old saying “be careful what you wish for” certainly holds merit, Nashville fans should swap in their yellow Preds jerseys for red Senators jerseys on Thursday night. Because in an ideal world, Ottawa would knock off the defending champions and provide Nashville with an easier Stanley Cup matchup.
This isn’t to disrespect the Senators. Beating the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers proves they’re more than capable of beating any team. Hell, Ottawa showcased a high level of mental toughness in Game 6 against Pittsburgh after suffering a 7-0 drubbing in Game 5. Although the Penguins clearly outplayed the Senators last night, Ottawa used a similar formula that Nashville has used throughout the postseason by relying on their goaltender.
No, Craig Anderson hasn’t been Pekka Rinne (who should win the Conn Smythe trophy regardless if Nashville wins the Stanley Cup), but his performance in Game 6 is the single most impressive performance by a goaltender this postseason.
So yes, if Ottawa pulls off the upset and advances to the Stanley Cup Final, Nashville will have its hands full. And so will the fans attempting to spot Ottawa on a map, which I certainly couldn’t do.
Ottawa in the Regular Season
While Nashville was the last team to make the postseason, perhaps no team had a weaker regular season resume than the Senators. They finished 6th in the Eastern Conference and actually allowed more goals (214) than they scored (212). The Predators are partly responsible for that, outscoring Ottawa 8-2 during the team’s two regular season meetings, which were both Nashville victories.
Ottawa in the Postseason
Nashville’s run through the postseason is one of the most impressive in sports history. They became the first No. 8 seed in any sport to sweep a No. 1 seed. They took care of a St. Louis team that finished ahead of them by five points in the Central Division. And then, they took down the West’s second best team in Anaheim. While the Senators eliminated two blue bloods in Boston and New York, they’ve also allowed at least four goals on eight occassions. Nashville has only allowed that many goals in a game once (Game 2 against Anaheim).
Ottawa’s Lack of Star Power
This is the big one. Pittsburgh has arguably the two best centers in all of hockey in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who have a combined 43 points this postseason. More importantly, they have experience on the game’s biggest stage. This isn’t to say Ottawa doesn’t have great players in their own right (defenseman Erik Karlsson is a stud, even though he’s currently banged up), but they’re just as much a Cinderella Story as the Predators are. Except unlike Nashville, they don’t sell out their Conference Final home games.
At the end of the day, Nashville should embrace either opponent. If Pittsburgh advances, the Preds have a chance to take down Goliath. If Ottawa advances, it’ll be a battle of the Cinderella stories. Given the injuries Nashville experienced, the latter is the more optimal matchup.