NHL Playoffs: Stanley Cup Final Preview

Nashville and Pittsburgh are the last two teams left fighting for the Stanley Cup. How'd they get here, and who has the edge in the final?

The stage is set. The prize? The Stanley Cup.

Either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Nashville Predators are poised to take home the hardware this year. Let's take a look into how each team got here, how they stand versus one another, and which squad, according to our metrics, has a better shot of winning this elusive championship.

How They Got Here

Nashville had quite possibly had the hardest path of any team in this year's postseason as they were the second wild card in the loaded Western Conference.

To get where they are, the Preds had to run through the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. And now they're set to square off with a battled-tested Penguins bunch.

Pittsburgh's path is nothing to shake a stick at, either, as they had to defeat the soaring Columbus Blue Jackets, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, and the surprisingly successful Ottawa Senators. Two of those series took seven games.

Without further ado, we break down how Nashville and Pittsburgh stack up with one another.

A Well-Oiled Machine

Pittsburgh has been this way all season -- when they get hot, they are a machine. This franchise under Mike Sullivan runs on all cylinders, starting with the power three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. They play the body, can draw any team out with the number of shots they take, and can control play for almost an entire game if they so choose.

If we take a look at Pittsburgh's shot generation chart, which is provided by HockeyViz, we see that throughout the season, the forward superstars were a staple in the Pens' juggernaut attack.

"They Have Four Erik Karlssons"

Chris Kunitz said it best himself, when he uttered the quote, "They have four Erik Karlssons on their blue line, so we'll have to work even harder."

Kunitz is absolutely right. The D-Core of P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi have been lights out all season, and when they have a goaltender like Pekka Rinne manning the pipes, it doesn't seems to be such a shocker than Nashville got to where they are.

The next two charts -- which come from Own The Puck -- compare the four defensemen we spoke about on the Nashville blue line. It can be argued that each and every one of them could be on a top pairing unit on any respectable team.

Nashville's Challenge

To overcome the Penguins' offense, Nashville's front twelve will have to be on fire, much like the back end. If Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, Filip Forsberg, and the rest of the Nashville lineup can continue their hot play, the numerous amount of injuries sustained by the team may not matter.

Unfortunately, with players like Mike Fisher listed as questionable (but looking like he may give it a go) and Ryan Johansen out, we could see Pittsburgh win in easy fashion.

Season Series

Since East-West matchups only happen once per home arena, the sample size behind the Nashville-Pittsburgh matchup is incredibly small. However, if we take a quick look, we can see that the two teams split -- with Nashville winning 5-1 on October 22nd, and Pittsburgh taking the clash 4-2 on January 31st.

It's important to mention that in Nashville's win, they faced Marc-Andre Fleury and were without Pekka Rinne. In this matchup, they were able to produce 5 goals on 30 shots, and they had massive success in shutting down all facets of scoring in the Pens' lineup (except for Scott Wilson).

In their loss, Pittsburgh sent Matt Murray to man the pipes, and despite Nashville's success in cooling down the Pens' top three, they were unable to defend against the heavy secondary scoring which Pittsburgh is also gifted with. This is something they really have to worry about over the course of this entire series.

It's been a long time since these two teams met each other, so expect numerous surprises in Game 1, which is slated for Monday night in Pittsburgh.

The Verdict

Our algorithm does see Pittsburgh as a heavy favorite, but that doesn't stop Nashville from having a 0.30 nERD rating. A rating that has doubled since the start of the playoffs. This rating has seen Nashville knock off some high caliber teams, and they are more than capable of adding Pittsburgh to that list.

Pittsburgh has been near the top of our nERD list all year, and with a rating of 0.70, they are expected to genuinely dominate Nashville on neutral ice. Below are the probabilities for every outcome of the series, per our models. The most likely outcome is that the Penguins will win in six games.

Result Odds
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 4 8.82%
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 5 17.81%
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 6 17.92%
Pittsburgh Penguins win in 7 17.04%
Pittsburgh Penguins win series 61.59%
Nashville Predators win in 4 4.36%
Nashville Predators win in 5 8.07%
Nashville Predators win in 6 13.09%
Nashville Predators win in 7 12.89%
Nashville Predators win series 38.41%

Will the Penguins repeat and become the first to win back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings do so in 1997 and 1998? Or will Nashville slay the beast and bring the Stanley Cup to the Music City for the first time in the league's history? Only time will tell, but the series is going to be a real treat for any hockey fan looking to get one last fix in before the end of the NHL's centennial season.