Shea Weber, Bobby Ryan

PHT Predicts: Ducks vs. Predators — Who do you have?

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All right so Anaheim-Nashville isn’t exactly the kind of match-up that grabs you by the face and makes you want to watch it, we admit that. When you start checking these two teams out though, we’re thinking this series could turn out to be the best of the first round battles. Both teams play a hard, physical game.

Nashville thrives on defense and with a pair of blue liners like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter it’s easy to see why they’d be strong there. Having Pekka Rinne as your goaltender helps make life easier on the offense so they don’t have to do too much. Good thing too since Patric Hornqvist, Martin Erat, and Mike Fisher are about all they can count on offensively.

Anaheim has made their living scoring in bunches. Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry leads the way and 40 year-old Teemu Selanne is making people think it’s 1993 all over again. Add those guys along with Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and offensive blue liners Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky the Ducks look like an offensive juggernaut in comparison. Their only issues come in goal where any one of Dan Ellis, Jonas Hiller, or Ray Emery could see action.

Yeah, it’s a contrast of styles all right and what we think matches that.

James says:
On one hand, you have a playoff-proven Ducks team with quite possibly the best trio of forwards in the NHL. This team is thrilling and sloppy like an adorable, oversized puppy dog. Meanwhile the Predators resemble a stray dog that’s been away from home too long. They are lean and mean, with very few frills but they break out their Costco-sized batch of elbow grease when the going gets tough.

If Nashville will ever win a playoff series, it will be this one. They have the steady goaltending situation, the all-world defenseman looking for a big raise (Shea Weber) and the defensive style that theoretically should translate to the postseason. Anaheim’s explosive offense makes me nervous, but the Ducks’ uncertainty in net and vulnerability on defense makes me feel comfortable to pick the fifth seed in another series.

It’s the Predators in 6 as Pekka Rinne shows us why so many people think he deserves Vezina Trophy consideration.

Matt says:
If it weren’t for Hawks/Canucks III, this would be the most interesting series in the West. The Ducks are one of the hottest teams entering the playoffs; while the Predators have been talking about how they must make it past the first round. Just about any outcome could happen and it wouldn’t be terribly surprising—from a Ducks sweep to the Preds in 7. Even though the Ducks have been on fire, when push comes to shove I’ll take the better defense and goaltending in a playoff series. Predators in 6.

Joe says:
About the only thing I feel certain of between these two teams is that this series is going deep. Six or seven games for sure and how it turns out feels like a coin flip. Anaheim’s offense is killer and they’ve got the best first line in the NHL. Getting Selanne’s production alongside a leader like Saku Koivu and a pair of lines that can grind it out with the best of them, it’s tough to resist them. Rinne’s goaltending is fantastic and their defense is nasty but that offense doesn’t sit well with me. I put no confidence into this prediction, but I’m sticking with it. Ducks in 7.

Not liking what our take is on this series or you want to take up the flag for Pekka Rinne or Corey Perry as your own personal series MVPs? Go ahead and vote in our poll and let us know what you think.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.