By: Andrew McDermott
The Stanley Cup Final has come down to a best of three series with all the marbles on the line. After the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators in the first two games, many fans thought it was a guarantee the Penguins would be back to back champions. However, the Predators had other plans and beat the Penguins in the following two games to even the series 2-2 heading back to Pittsburgh.
Many fans are smacking the panic button after the last two losses, almost throwing in the towel at the moment. As discouraging as the last two games were, honestly what else could you expect? I’m not one of those people. While I do know momentum is firmly on Nashville’s side, and the Penguins do somewhat have their backs against the wall, there is plenty to be positive about.
It’s back down to a three game series with home ice advantage, like the Ottawa series. The Penguins have been in this position before. Sidney Crosby has elevated his game and is attempting to carry this team once again. Matt Murray has been playing solid, but not to the high expectations that fans know he can play at. Most importantly, the forwards still have gas left in the tank. I do believe the Penguins are the better team in this series, but Nashville has played like they want it more these past two games. If the Penguins want to win, here’s what I think has to happen these next few games.
- Ron Hainsey must sit out a game, at least. The defensive group as a whole has very little gas in the tank, with Hainsey being the most obvious. He’s failed to clear the puck out of the defensive zone multiple times, is slow to the puck, and turnover prone. He’s turned into Rob Scuderi this series. I think Chad Ruhwedel can move the puck better, and he’s definitely quicker than Hainsey. I’d slot Ruhwedel into the lineup for speed and puck movement.
- Offensive zone pressure must be sustained. Throw every shot you can at Pekka Rinne, who woke up after the first two games to play like the All-Star he is the last two games. Get grimy, get dirty, and get into that crease to make him uncomfortable.
- Score on the power play. After a dismal first three games with the man advantage, the power play came to life a little bit in Game 4. Stop passing up shots and put the puck on net.
- Speaking of putting the puck on net, Phil Kessel needs to get going offensively. He’s seemed passive at times, but attempted 8 shots in Game 4. A recipe for success for Kessel is to just shoot, shoot, shoot.
- Secondary scoring needs to happen. Aside from Guentzel, Crosby, and Malkin, there really hasn’t been a scoring threat among the rest. Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, and Patric Hornqvist need to start putting pucks into the net like they’ve shown they can.
- Control the breakouts. Penguins fans haven’t seen many clean breakouts this series with Nashville being aggressive on the fore check. Use that to your advantage, and make them pay for being aggressive with a few more odd man rushes.
- Finally, win the 50/50 battles. Heck, even win the 2-1 battles. Nashville has played like they want the Stanley Cup more, and the Penguins are going to have to elevate their game more in order to scrap out some wins these next few games. It won’t be pretty, but a gritty game is what the Penguins need to get past these pesky Predators. What a fun series it has been so far, and I still believe the Penguins will be back to back Stanley Cup Champions.