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Stanley Cup Final

10 storylines for Stanley Cup Final

Penguins' bid to repeat, Predators' productive defense among areas to watch

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

The matchup is set. It's the Nashville Predators vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final. 

Game 1 is in Pittsburgh on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). 

Here are 10 storylines that could dominate the headlines in the days and weeks ahead, as the NHL moves closer to crowning the 2017 Stanley Cup champion:

 

1. Penguins trying for repeat

The Penguins are the first team to reach to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years since 2009, when they and the Detroit Red Wings did it in a Cup Final rematch. 

The Penguins ruined Detroit's repeat chances eight years ago by winning the series in seven games. They are trying to become the first team since the Red Wings in 1998 to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

There have been 15 back-to-back (at least) Stanley Cup winners since 1927, when only NHL teams started competing for the Cup. Three teams, including the 2009 Red Wings, have reached the Final a second straight year but failed to repeat since 1998.

The Dallas Stars got back to the Cup Final in 2000 after winning in 1999 but lost to the New Jersey Devils. And the Devils got back to the Final in 2001 but lost to the Colorado Avalanche.

Video: OTT@PIT, Gm5: Kessel nets Crosby's dish for PPG

 

2. First time for everything

The Predators are in their first Stanley Cup Final, where they can become the NHL's second first-time Stanley Cup champion in the past 10 seasons.

The Los Angeles Kings were first-time champions in 2012 before winning again in 2014.

The Predators also can become the third of the nine (soon to be 10) expansion teams since 1991 to win the Stanley Cup. 

The Tampa Bay Lightning (2004) also won the Cup in their first Final appearance. The Anaheim Ducks (2007) won it in their second appearance after losing to the Devils in 2003.

 

3. First time for everything, Part 2

This series represents the first time two U.S.-born coaches will go against each other in the Stanley Cup Final.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette (who won the Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006) and Penguins coach Mike Sullivan are both from Massachusetts and already among the six U.S.-born coaches who have won the Cup. One of them will become the first to win it twice.

The other U.S.-born coaches to win the Stanley Cup are Bill Stewart (Chicago Blackhawks, 1938), Bob Johnson (Penguins, 1991), John Tortorella (Lightning, 2004) and Dan Bylsma (Penguins, 2009).

 

4. Sidney Crosby , Evgeni Malkin trying to surpass legends

Penguins centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have a chance to do something Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr never did -- win the Cup for a third time.

Lemieux and Jagr helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup twice, in 1991 and 1992. They never got Pittsburgh back to the Final again.

Another championship for Crosby and Malkin would further cement their legacies as two of the greatest athletes in Pittsburgh sports history. They're already on the Penguins' Mount Rushmore with Lemieux and Jagr.

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm6: Malkin backhands home own rebound

 
5. Peter Laviolette, Jim Rutherford each can join elite fraternity

Laviolette and Jim Rutherford, the Penguins' general manager, won the Stanley Cup together in 2006 (Rutherford was the Hurricanes' GM). They will forever be linked, their names engraved near each other's on the Stanley Cup.

Now they are competitors in the Cup Final, and each can do something remarkable.

Laviolette can join Dick Irvin, Scotty Bowman and Tommy Gorman as the only coaches to win the Stanley Cup with two teams. Laviolette already is one of four coaches in NHL history to reach the Cup Final with three teams. He also took the Philadelphia Flyers to the Cup Final in 2010.

Rutherford, who also won the Cup with the Penguins last season, can join those who have won it three times as GM. The list includes Hall of Famers Frank Selke, Jack Adams, Conn Smythe and Art Ross. Each has a trophy named after him.

Lou Lamoriello, Glen Sather, Bill Torrey, Sam Pollock and Punch Imlach also have done it. So has Stan Bowman, GM of the Chicago Blackhawks. He, like Rutherford, might one day be on his way into the Hall of Fame as well.

Perhaps Laviolette as well?

 

6. David Poile finally gets here

This is the first trip to the Stanley Cup Final for Poile, the Predators' GM, in his 45 years in the NHL, including the past 33 as a general manager, first with the Washington Capitals (1982-97) and the past 20 years with the Predators. He started in the NHL as an executive with the Atlanta Flames in 1972.

The Poile name, however, already is engraved on the Stanley Cup. Poile's father, Bud Poile, won it as a player with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947.

 

7. Trade that still works for both sides

Twenty-one days after being hired by the Penguins in 2014, Rutherford traded forward James Neal to the Predators for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. 

Neal, who scored 89 goals in 199 games with the Penguins from 2011-14, has seven points (five goals, two assists) in 16 playoff games this season for Nashville. 

Hornqvist, who spent his first six NHL seasons in Nashville, helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup last year and has seven points (four goals, three assists) in 13 games in these playoffs. 

Hornqvist didn't play in the last six games of the Eastern Conference Final because of an upper-body injury, but there is a chance he could be ready to go for Game 1 on Monday.

Video: NSH@ANA, Gm2: Neal extends lead, ties club record

 

8. All eyes on P.K. Subban

No matter what he does or says, Predators defenseman P.K. Subban will be one of the most watched and talked-about players in this series. That's just the way it is with Subban, and you know he loves it, too.

Subban, with his vivacious personality and remarkable game, is one of the most marketable stars in the NHL today. He is must-watch theater and now he gets to play on hockey's biggest stage.

It's also just too rich to ignore what could happen if Nashville wins. 

Subban, a Toronto native, will most likely take the Stanley Cup to his home city, where it lives in the Hockey Hall of Fame but hasn't been won by the Maple Leafs since 1967. 

He also will likely take the Cup to the home of his former team, the Montreal Canadiens, who traded him to Nashville. Fans still love him in Montreal even though he was traded in June.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Subban rips a goal through screen

 
9. Center depth could be a factor

The Predators won't be intimidated by having to go up against a team that has a dynamic 1-2 duo at center like Crosby and Malkin. Remember, they just got past the Ducks, who boast Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler .

However, it is fair to wonder how significant it will be for the Predators to go up against Crosby and Malkin for an entire series knowing their No. 1 center, Ryan Johansen , will not be able to play and their No. 2 center, Mike Fisher , might be playing injured.

Johansen is out after having surgery on his left thigh following Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. Fisher could return for Game 1 after missing Games 5 and 6 against the Ducks with an undisclosed injury.

Nashville had Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok as its top two centers in Game 6 against the Ducks. The Predators won 6-3 and Sissons had a hat trick with Jarnkrok assisting on his third goal.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm6: Sissons floats a wrister past Bernier

 

10. Nashville's big advantage on defense

The Penguins have the advantage down the middle, but the Predators have the edge by far on defense. 

One thing we have learned in these playoffs is Nashville's top-four defensemen can't be rivaled by any team, especially the Penguins, who are playing without top defenseman Kris Letang (neck).

Roman Josi , Ryan Ellis , Subban and Mattias Ekholm have combined for 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 16 playoff games. That's two more points than the Penguins' eight defensemen have combined for in 19 games.

Josi, Ellis, Subban and Ekholm have provided 32 percent of Nashville's 122 points this postseason. By comparison, Pittsburgh's eight defensemen have provided 22.8 percent of the 162 points Pittsburgh has scored this postseason.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm3: Josi buries PPG for late lead

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