Every young hockey player dreams about one day competing for the Stanley Cup. For a select few, that dream becomes reality tonight.
Game One of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins comes this evening at PPG Paints Arena, the first time the Preds have ever appeared in the Final. It's the second consecutive year the Penguins have reached this point, beating San Jose last season to capture their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history. Now, the Predators will try to knock off the defending champs.
Nashville got here by defeating Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim as they made their way through the West, compiling a 12-4 record to this point. Pittsburgh worked past Columbus, Washington and Ottawa, defeating the Capitals and Senators in seven games to reach the Final.
The Predators have lost forwards Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala for the playoffs due to injury, but Nashville could potentially get Captain Mike Fisher back in the lineup soon. Head Coach Peter Laviolette remarked on Sunday that every player on the trip, including Fisher and Craig Smith, will be available to play.
Filip Forsberg leads the Predators in scoring with eight goals and 15 points in the postseason. Defenseman Ryan Ellis follows with 11 points, and Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Colton Sissons and Viktor Arvidsson make up a four-way tie with 10 points. Josi, Sissons and James Neal have all tallied five goals; Ellis and Austin Watson have four each. Goaltender Pekka Rinne has recorded all 12 of Nashville's wins with a .941 save percentage in these playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby pace the Penguins in scoring with 24 and 20 points, respectively. They're followed by Phil Kessel, who has 19 points, and Jake Guentzel who's tallied 16. Guentzel leads the club with nine goals, Crosby, Malkin and Kessel have seven each. Goaltender Matt Murray, who took over for Marc-Andre Fleury in the Eastern Conference Final, has posted a .946 save percentage in five games played.
Video: Preds want fourth straight, 1-0 series lead
As the Predators participate in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history, here are three things to watch for:
"They Have Four Karlssons"
While facing Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins had to deal with Senators Captain Erik Karlsson every night, one of the top defensemen in the game. As more than one Pittsburgh player has remarked over the past couple of days, they believe the Preds have four Karlssons on their roster.
They would be referring to Nashville's top four blueliners in Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm. All have been stellar in these playoffs, each bringing a unique set of skills that seems to be just as effective in the offensive zone as they are in front of their own net.
Nashville's defensive corps will now be tasked with slowing the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, perhaps the toughest challenge they've faced yet.
Video: Josi, Aberg, Irwin and Watson talk Game 1 debut
Once either side is able to utilize their speed and skill to get to the net, it'll be up to the goaltenders to potentially steal a game or two in this series.
Nashville's Pekka Rinne has been difficult to beat throughout the postseason, collecting all 12 of his team's wins while allowing less than an average of two goals per game. The matchup pits Rinne against Matt Murray in Pittsburgh, who just took over the starting job from Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray took the Penguins to the championship last season and has been stellar in his four starts.
Will both clubs find ways to ignite their offenses once more, or will the goaltenders, keep things tight in Game One, and throughout the Final?
Video: Laviolette prepares for this third Stanley Cup Final
Living the Dream:
Almost every member of the Predators remarked on Stanley Cup Final Media Day they've lost track of how many times they "won" the Cup in their backyard when they were growing up. Now, they actually have a chance to do so.
Just as they've done throughout the postseason, the Preds had that same quiet confidence about them the day before Game One, and they're not worried about anything but simply embracing the moment and doing what got them here in the first place. Time will tell if it'll be enough to realize their dreams.
Take It In:
Tonight's game from Pittsburgh comes with an 7 p.m. CT start, with national coverage on NBC. Fox Sports Tennessee has pre- and postgame coverage throughout the Stanley Cup Final, with NBCSN and NHL Network on the scene as well. Fans can listen on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.
For all the details on the Stanley Cup Final, visit the Predators Playoff Hub.