Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, plays, or trends that have caught his eye.
First: I think it is going to be an incredible Stanley Cup Final between two fast, deep and extremely skilled teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators. Stylistically, that matchup is going to be fun to watch. The Final also features two United States-born coaches, Mike Sullivan and Peter Laviolette, the first time that has happened in NHL history. It's great for the game of hockey.
Each team also has excellent goaltending. Pekka Rinne of the Predators has been the best goalie by far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs thus far. The two-headed monster of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury carried the Penguins again.
Video: Kunitz's 2OT goal sends Pens to second straight Final
The job Sullivan has done with all the injuries he's had to deal with has been impressive. Kris Letang has been out for the entire playoffs and Sidney Crosby, Carl Hagelin, Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz and Trevor Daley each missed time, but the Penguins never missed a beat. Schultz has stepped up big time on the back end in the regular season and playoffs. Even Chris Kunitz, who has battled injuries this season, scored twice in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, including the double-overtime goal on Thursday that eliminated the Ottawa Senators.
Murray carried them during the regular season, but Fleury has been outstanding in the playoffs, filling in for Murray when he was injured.
And we can't forget Crosby. He passed Mario Lemieux for the most playoff assists in Penguins franchise history recently. Any time you pass Mario, you're doing something right.
Overall, they have been the most consistent team in the playoffs. Nashville has found different ways to win and has had 10 different goal scorers in its 12 wins. Even without No. 1 center Ryan Johansen, Mike Fisher and Kevin Fiala, Nashville found a way to win with other players stepping up such as Colton Sissons and Austin Watson.
Their defense has been awesome, right down to the third pair of Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin. Obviously the Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis pair has been really good and the P.K. Subban-Mattias Ekholm pair has probably been the most complete because they have been the shutdown pair. The fact that they held Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kessler of the Anaheim Ducks to no goals in the Western Conference Final and didn't allow much to Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues in the second round, or to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round has been impressive.
Filip Forsberg has been a stud. He had a point in each game against the Ducks and has a seven-game point streak. Forsberg is leading the Predators with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in the playoffs.
Video: Top 10 Plays of the Conference Finals
They were able to battle through a lot of injuries to come within two wins of the Stanley Cup Final. It was unfortunate that goalie John Gibson was injured in Game 5 against the Predators. We also learned Thursday that defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm each had a shoulder injury, Kevin Bieksa played with a sprained MCL, and forwards Patrick Eaves and Rickard Rakell each had an ankle sprains.
Jakob Silfverberg had 14 points in 17 playoff games and Getzlaf had 19 points. However, Getzlaf and most of his teammates were unable to produce offensively against the Predators. It was a valiant effort and the Ducks put their Game 7 woes behind them defeating the Edmonton Oilers to win the second round. Coach Randy Carlyle did a great job with this team.
A lot of people didn't think they would be in the conference final, let alone one bounce of the puck away from being in the Final. After Guy Boucher took over as coach, he met with Erik Karlsson and sold him on how he wanted to defend better this year. Karlsson took notice and ranked second in the League in blocked shots during the regular season. He played with two hairline fractures in his left foot throughout the playoffs. That shows you how much he wants to win. Karlsson is the most dominant defenseman in the League right now.
Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Jean-Gabriel Pageau played really well. But a guy who doesn't get enough credit is Dion Phaneuf, who has stabilized that the second defensive pairing and been a great mentor to Cody Ceci.
There were a lot of inspirational stories, including Craig Anderson's wife being diagnosed with cancer and Clarke MacArthur returning from concussions to scoring big goals. These guys were a tight-knit group who played for each other. The Senators were in every game and came within one goal of the Cup Final.