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Stanley Cup Final

Why Predators will win Stanley Cup

Goalie Pekka Rinne, defense have improved throughout playoffs

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

The Nashville Predators have proven through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that they have the tools necessary to win their first championship.

These Predators are built around their defense, which has been the driving force in series wins against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks, each of whom was a higher seed. The Predators have had a good defense for several seasons, but they made a franchise-altering trade June 29 by dealing defenseman/captain Shea Weber to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman P.K. Subban, a younger player with more offensive upside.

That trade came in the aftermath of a devastating Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Second Round, denying the Predators a chance at their first conference final appearance.

General Manager David Poile felt Subban, a Norris Trophy winner in 2013, would bring some much-needed offensive pizzazz. That has come to fruition. Subban has been very good, with 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in the playoffs, but so have other defensemen.

Ryan Ellis had a career year and is leading Nashville's defensemen in playoff scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists). His partner, Roman Josi, has 10 points (five goals, five assists) and has stepped out of Weber's shadow. The revelation in this group has been Mattias Ekholm. He has paired with Subban to form an effective shutdown pair that has kept three very good scorers -- Chicago's Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko of St. Louis and Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf -- in check.

Video: Arvidsson discusses the Stanley Cup Final vs. Pens

The addition of Subban was, essentially, the finishing move to a project that's been years in the making.

Some players have matured in the Nashville system, others have been assimilated into it through shrewd trades and free-agent signings by Poile.

For the first time in memory, the Predators are among the most feared offensive teams in the League.

Forward Viktor Arvidsson, 24, had a breakout season with 31 goals after scoring eight in 2015-16. He complements Filip Forsberg, 22, who topped 30 goals for the second straight season. Center Ryan Johansen, 24, tied Arvidsson with a team-high 61 points during the regular season and had been a beast in the playoffs with 13 points until sustaining a season-ending thigh injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.

They are bolstered by productive veterans such as Mike Fisher, who scored 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) in the regular season, and James Neal, a former Pittsburgh Penguins player who has five goals and one assist in the second and third rounds of the playoffs.

But the Predators, the second wild card from the Western Conference who tied the Calgary Flames for the fewest points (94) among playoff teams, became a legitimate threat to hoist the Stanley Cup when goalie Pekka Rinne caught fire.

His play against the Blackhawks, when he had two shutouts and allowed three goals in four games, set the stage for the domination that has followed. Rinne, 34, is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career at exactly the right time.

Coach Peter Laviolette puts all this talent in the proper position to win. Few have done it better for longer than Laviolette, who coached his 1,000th NHL game in March. Laviolette won the Stanley Cup as a coach in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has coached three teams - the Predators, Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers -- to the third round of the playoffs.

For those reasons, the Stanley Cup will settle in Nashville in mid-June, kicking off a celebration that will humble this party-mad city.

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