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Predators-Penguins an Intriguing Game 1 Showdown
Pick the Preds in Game 1
By Bob Duff
When it comes to Stanley Cup final newcomers, getting off to a good start is paramount. Good starts are what Nashville's been all about, opening with three straight road wins through the firs three playoff rounds. Can the Preds make it four in a row in Pittsburgh? We break it down, based on odds provided courtesy of Bovada.lv:
Last spring, the Penguins got the jump on the Stanley Cup final newbies from San Jose, winning the first two games from the Sharks on home ice en route to a six-game verdict in the series.
Nashville can't allow the Penguins to do that, and the Predators haven't allowed any team to do that to them thus far in the playoffs. The Predators have won three games in a row away from home to open each playoff round, and in fact Nashville has yet to trail in any playoff series this spring.
Knowing that Nashville is a stellar 8-1 on home ice at Bridgestone Arena during the playoffs, the Penguins won't want to easily surrender home-ice advantage, but Pittsburgh could also be in a lessened state of competitiveness following an emotional double overtime win over Ottawa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
Pittsburgh needs to flex its muscles down the middle and take advantage of the edge at center offered by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, currently 1-2 in playoff scoring. Nashville will again be without No. 1 center Ryan Johansen (thigh surgery), although Mike Fisher, the Predators' best checking center, is expected to return from the injured list in time for Game 1.
It's likely that Nashville's top shutdown defensive pairing of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm will be asked to deal with Crosby. That tandem has been on the ice for just six even-strength goals through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The goaltending battle also figures to be intriguing. Nashville's Pekka Rinne leads the playoffs in save percentage (.941) and goals-against average (1.70) but since he replaced Marc-Andre Fleury in the Eastern Conference final, Matt Murray has fashioned better numbers (1.35, .946) than Rinne in his five games of work.
Bovada has set the total for Game 1 at a generous 5.5, which bodes well if you think the Predators will carry the day in Game 1. Nashville has gone under that total in 10 of its 12 playoff victories.
Even the Penguins have gone under 5.5 total goals in six of their last eight games.
Pick: The Predators (+145) and the under (5.5)
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