Stanley Cup Final

Flyers fan's guide to Stanley Cup Final

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USA Today Images

Flyers fan's guide to Stanley Cup Final

NBC Sports Philadelphia's John Boruk, Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall provide the Flyers fan's guide to the Stanley Cup Final, which begins tonight at 8 on NBC.

Boruk

Who Flyers fans should cheer for
The Golden Knights are clearly the sentimental favorite and if they win the Stanley Cup, they very well may be the best team story since the Miracle on Ice in 1980. However, let’s make a case for pulling for the Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin has been Sidney Crosby’s long-time nemesis since coming into the league in 2005 and for the anti-Crosby crowd, it was gratifying to see Ovechkin and the Caps finally get over that hump. If you’re looking for a sentimental angle, Barry Trotz is the father of a special needs child, son Nolan, who has Down syndrome, and Trotz enters the Final in the final few months of his contract. Both Trotz, Ovechkin and the Capitals have been repeatedly criticized as just not good enough to win a Cup. Here’s a chance to prove them all wrong. A Washington victory would keep the Stanley Cup in the Metropolitan Division for the third straight year, proving the Flyers compete in the toughest division in hockey.     

Conn Smythe
Right now, it’s all about Flower power. Marc-Andre Fleury has posted some ridiculous numbers through the first three rounds of the playoffs — a 12-3 record with a 1.68 goals against and a .947 save percentage. Even if the Capitals win the Cup, Fleury may still receive the honors in a losing effort as the award is a reflection of the entire postseason.

Prediction: Golden Knights in five
They swept the Kings, never trailed in the Sharks series and reeled off four straight wins over Winnipeg. Vegas is proving how dominant they are and that their regular season was no fluke. They enter the Stanley Cup Final well rested and I don’t think the Capitals will keep up with the Knights' relentless pressure and high-tempo.

Dougherty

Who Flyers fans should cheer for
There is not a lot to cheer about in this country right now, but the Vegas Golden Knights are as good of a story as you will find anywhere. We need it.

I don't get how anyone can actively root against Vegas. An expansion team in the Stanley Cup Final. A team filled with misfits and a castaway head coach who was forced to hail his own taxi after the Panthers fired him.

Everyone loves an underdog and if you're from Philly, you know the rest. Need more reason to root for Vegas? How about Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Luca Sbisa, who, let's not forget, helped the Flyers acquire Chris Pronger in 2009?

Conn Smythe
Win or lose, the Conn Smythe has to go to Fleury. He already has the best save percentage through the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs ever. Unless he allows five goals per game in the FInal — won't happen — I don't see how the Conn Smythe can go to anyone else. Fleury has been the best player throughout these playoffs and it's not even close.  

Prediction: Golden Knights in five
I'm not betting against Vegas anymore. I still look at the Golden Knights' roster and am befuddled at how they even made the playoffs, let alone the Stanley Cup Final. But here we are. I learned my lesson. Vegas wins easily.

Hall

Who Flyers fans should cheer for
Ovechkin is a likable player and the Philadelphia sports fan can certainly relate to the Capitals' pain of a championship drought. Heck, if you think you've had it bad, Washington has never hoisted the Stanley Cup, with a lengthy stretch recently of notoriously falling well short of expectations.

However, the Capitals are in the Metropolitan Division and hold a geographical significance to Flyers fans.

Is there anything to dislike about the Golden Knights and their story? Not really. It's pretty neat and if anyone is uneasy about a team winning in its first year of existence, well, the whole league has to deal with that, too.

Conn Smythe
It's hard to believe it won't be Ovechkin if the Capitals come out victorious. He's having an excellent postseason, he's one of the biggest faces in the NHL and if anyone deserves a Cup, it's probably this guy.

Prediction: Capitals in six
The Capitals are so close they can taste it. I simply don't see this group getting this far, exorcising some serious playoff demons, without finishing the job.

Ovechkin, Braden Holtby and the rest just seem laser focused. And not that Vegas will be happy to be there, but it might not feel the same sense of urgency of Washington.

Penguins beat Predators for 2nd straight Stanley Cup

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AP Images

Penguins beat Predators for 2nd straight Stanley Cup

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sidney Crosby is bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh for a second consecutive year. He's bringing another MVP trophy, too.

Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 left and Matt Murray made 27 saves for his second straight shutout as the Penguins became the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as champion with a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 6 on Sunday night.

The Penguins won their fifth title -- all of them clinched on the road -- to tie the Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-era Edmonton Oilers for sixth on the all-time list. The Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and `98 were the last champion to defend their title. The Penguins are the first to do it in the salary-cap era.

"We knew it was going to be tough all year, but we just tried to keep with it," Crosby said. "We had a lot of injuries and things like that. We just kept finding ways. That was really what we did all season, all playoffs. It's great to be able to do it."

Crosby also became just the third player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive years as the Stanley Cup MVP to go along with his third championship. He led the Final in scoring with one goal and six assists, including three in a 6-0 win in Game 5 that put the Penguins on the doorstep of another title. Only teammate Evgeni Malkin (28 points) had more than Crosby's 27 this postseason.

"You have a small window to play and have a career," Crosby said. "I feel fortunate, but I also understand how difficult it was so you just want to try to make the best of it."

Hornqvist scored off Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's left elbow , the former Predator silencing the raucous crowd that had stood for long minutes and flung a few more catfish, too. Nashville challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld. With Pekka Rinne pulled for an extra attacker, Carl Hagelin set off a bench celebration with an empty netter with 13.6 seconds left.

"Obviously, it's going to be the biggest goal I'm ever going to score," Hornqvist said. "That's always going to stand really close to my heart."

All that was left was the celebrating. Crosby took the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before handing the trophy off to veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey who passed it to veteran forward Matt Cullen.

Nashville lost for just the first time in regulation on home ice this postseason and this one had some hard luck. Colton Sissons had a goal erased by a whistle 67 seconds into the second period. The Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third.

"It stings," said defenseman P.K. Subban, brought over in a trade stunner in the offseason and a foil for Crosby all series. "I think the biggest thing we've got to take from this is, remember the feeling. That's what's going to drive us. .... We're going to be back here again next year."

Forget a golden anniversary: The Penguins will cap their 50th season with their names on the most famous silver cup in sports -- again. It is also the third championship for Crosby and a handful of teammates from the 2009 title team, surpassing the two won by the Penguins teams led by current owner Mario Lemieux in the 1990s.

And it's the second championship in 18 months for coach Mike Sullivan, who has yet to lose a playoff series since taking over after Mike Johnston was fired. Sullivan is the first American-born coach to win the Cup not once, but twice.

"It's been an amazing year from the start, trying to repeat," Lemieux said. "A lot of these guys played injured in the playoffs and showed a lot of character. Of course, Sid being the best player in the world again and winning the Conn Smythe. He was our leader and picked up the team when we needed it."

Murray became the first goalie to win not one, but two Stanley Cups as a rookie after being a late-season call up a year ago who didn't play enough games to get that tag removed. That's something neither Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Cam Ward ever managed, but the 23-year-old Murray finished this Final shutting out Nashville for the final 146:52. He set a rookie record with two shutouts in the Final.

"What an experience," he said. "It doesn't get any better."

The loss ended the upstart Predators' deepest playoff run in their 19-year history and one that became the talk of the town -- and the league.

Having won just three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville opened this postseason by eliminating the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in four games. In doing so, the Predators became the first eighth-seeded team to sweep a first-round series since the current playoff format was introduced in 1994. Nashville went through St. Louis and then Anaheim to the Final, where only captain Mike Fisher on the roster had ever played before.

The stingy Predators found Pittsburgh was up to the task, with the Penguins taking the first two games on home ice. Nashville roared back at home to even things up, but the Penguins routed Nashville to set up Game 6.

The Penguins ruined Nashville's big party on the final night of CMA Music Festival, which brought more than 100,000 to downtown Nashville. Country star Luke Bryan serenaded fans from the rooftop of a honky-tonk in a performance that kicked off the television broadcast, and he also sang a four-song set for fans inside and outside the arena an hour before face-off.

Faith Hill became the latest to sing the national anthem with husband, star Tim McGraw, giving her a hug once finished before waving a towel in each hand. At least five catfish hit the ice before the face-off.

Then a series that hadn't featured even a single one-goal game went scoreless through the first 58 minutes. The Predators thought they had the first goal of the game, just like they did in Game 1 in Pittsburgh, only to have referee Kevin Pollock wave it off immediately. He had whistled the play dead when he lost sight of the puck with Murray on the ice between him and the puck.

Sissons tapped the puck into the net 67 seconds into the second period behind Murray's back. Officials huddled, but the goal was not allowed.

Murray also stopped Sissons on a breakaway midway through the second and also gloved a shot from Viktor Arvidsson later in the period. The Penguins also killed off 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 at 8:47 of the third after Trevor Daley punched Ryan Ellis with Olli Maatta already in the box for tripping. Murray made a big stop on a shot by Mattias Ekholm followed by a save on Arvidsson.

"We never gave up," Fisher said. "We lost a lot of guys to injuries. Sixteen seed. No one really gave us a chance against anyone and here we are in Game 6. Things didn't go our way, but that happens. That's sport. Like I said, this team never gave up. We believed all the way."

This championship season for the Penguins lacked some of the drama from a year ago, but it was far from a slam dunk. Washington won the President's Trophy for a second straight season and pushed Pittsburgh to seven games in the second round. Ottawa did the same thing, forcing the Penguins to double overtime to clinch the Eastern Conference title.

Crosby, Malkin and others also played in the World Cup of Hockey before the season, making this an even longer year than usual. In the end, the Penguins had more than enough in the tank to bring home another title.

"We've got a collection of guys who understand what it takes to win," Crosby said.

Notes
Lemieux won the Conn Smythe in 1992 and 1992, and Bernie Parent was the first to win the MVP trophy in consecutive years in 1974 and 1975. ... Murray is the first goalie with two shutouts in one Cup Final since Boston's Tim Thomas and Vancouver's Roberto Luongo had two apiece in 2011. ... Nashville finished the series going 0 of 8 on the power play over the final two games. ... Grammy winners Cage the Elephant performed during the second intermission after playing at Bonnaroo on Friday night.

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins aim for Cup repeat in rowdy Nashville

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins aim for Cup repeat in rowdy Nashville

There are coaches who will tell you that a playoff series doesn't truly start until the road team wins a game.

In the case of the Stanley Cup Final, the first road win will spell the end of the series. The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins can become the first team to repeat since Detroit in 1998 if they can crack the code of raucous Bridgestone Arena Sunday night in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators.

"We're just going to try to stay in the moment regardless of whether it needs to be played," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "We're going to try to play the game that gives us the best chance to win."

That game looks a whole lot like Game 5, in which the Penguins ambushed Nashville early and often, scoring six goals in the first two periods and netting a contentious 6-0 win that gave them a 3-2 series lead.

It looks nothing like Games 1 through 4, in which the Predators controlled the flow of play most of the time. While Pittsburgh created really good scoring chances in the first two periods of Game 4, it was still outshot in each of the first four games, sometimes by a lot in terms of total shots.

Nashville looked nothing like that team Thursday night, instead imitating deer frozen by headlights. Goalie Pekka Rinne lasted one period, undone by poor defense in front of him and the relentless Penguins attack.

During the 72-hour break between Games 2 and 3, Predators coach Peter Laviolette was asked repeatedly if he intended to bench Rinne. That line of questioning has been squashed during this 72-hour hiatus, in part because Laviolette wouldn't entertain it, and also because Rinne has simply been so dominant at home.

He's 9-1 in this year's playoffs at Bridgestone Arena, ceding just 15 goals and often standing on his head with spectacular saves like the ones he made in Game 4 that led Nashville to a 4-1 victory.

"He's the same every day," Laviolette said of Rinne. "He works hard every day. His demeanor seems the same to me. We've got to do a better job in front of him. I know there's things we can do that can support our goaltender better."

One thing can be accomplished simply by playing at home. In addition to the deafening crowd that seems to act as an extra skater, wearing the gold uniforms gives the Predators the final change. That allows Laviolette to use his top defense pairings more in faceoff situations to better counter the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But what if Nashville's Big Four defensively becomes a Big Three? Ryan Ellis, who left Game 5 in the second period with an upper-body injury, didn't practice on Saturday.

However, Ellis was on the ice skating on Sunday morning, and the Predators are hoping Ellis will be able to play.

If he's not able to go, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm may have to soak up extra minutes.

Regardless, the Predators will be a formidable foe on friendly ice, especially now that they're in win-or-else mode. No one knows that better than the team trying to knock them out.

"We have to approach it like the team that's playing for its life tomorrow," defenseman Ron Hainsey said. "Everybody's focus will be on getting off to a real good start because if we don't, it could be a rough night."