Nashville is known for country music and great southern barbecue, but these days all anyone wants to talk about in the Music City is hockey.
The city of Nashville has seen plenty of winners come through its city, however, that was about music and while few people there might have any idea of the origins of the Stanley Cup, each victory by the Predators has been a huge party, including three home series clinchers.
The opening NHL odds have Nashville as +130 underdogs in this series, which was remarkable considering they were the 8th seed in the Western Conference and have gotten to this point for the first time ever without home ice advantage. What will it take for the Preds to upset the defending Stanley Cup champions?
The Defense Cannot Rest
Any discussion about Nashville starts in the net, where goalie Pekka Rinne has been (pick your descriptive adjective) sensational. The 34-year netminder is 12-4 with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage and has only had one off game the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs. No question he holds the key the Preds winning four more games.
In spite of his incredible play, Rinne would be the first to say, this journey is not just about him and he has six defensemen, four in particular, that have helped thwart the opposition.
The Nashville blueliners are the bedrock to this team's playoff run and the defensive cornerstones are Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban. Not only are these individuals solid as defenders, but each has skills offensively, which has them taking the puck up the ice and allows the forwards to use their considerable speed.
How the defensemen and Rinne play against high-scoring Pittsburgh is the most important aspect of this series and what will determine where to place your NHL picks.
Speed and Free Flowing Style Offensively
If you watched Nashville's series wins over Chicago and St. Louis, they have superior speed in the offensive zone and kept the pressure on both those teams. Against Anaheim, they had to be the counterpuncher, because of all the Ducks big bodies and had to absorb a lot of blows and held on.
In this series, forwards like Flip Forsberg and others have to rise to the occasion and keep the pressure on Pittsburgh and get them to crack. The Predators offense is at its best when they can get out and skate and maintain puck possession, which they should be able to do against the Penguins.
Listen to the Coach and Maintain the Home Ice Advantage
Coach Peter Laviolette was behind the bench when Carolina won Stanley Cup (2006) and he took Philadelphia to The Finals in 2010. Laviolette is a master motivator and certainly will play the underdog card. Because Pittsburgh can bring tremendous offensive pressure, he has to keep his team 'up' emotionally and have them focused on winning shift after shift.
As we have seen in the playoffs, home ice has not meant a lot, however, Nashville is 7-1 in their building and has an unbelievable home ice edge going with a raucous crowd. If they win all the home games and can sneak out one contest on the road, the Predators will win the Stanley Cup.