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Here are PHT’s Stanley Cup Final predictions

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Here we go!

After three rounds of scintillating predictions — well, from me anyway — we’ve finally reached the apex: Nashville versus Pittsburgh in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

PHT’s conference final picks went reasonably well. I went 2-0, as did Cam Tucker and Adam Gretz. Everybody else went 1-1, humans and non-humans alike.

If you’ve been following along throughout the playoffs, you’ll know that we enlisted the services of The Random Thing Picker. It, as the name suggests, picks random things, and in doing so has compiled a 9-5 overall record these playoffs.

As for the sentient beings? I’m 11-3 (and moving to Vegas next week), Tucker’s 9-5, Alfieri’s 8-6, Gretz and Brough are 7-7, and O’Brien’s bringing up the rear at 6-8.

Onto the picks…

Halford: Penguins in 7

I’ve analyzed this series 15 different ways now, and I keep coming back to one thing — the center position. Under any other circumstance, I think Nashville has enough strengths in goal and on defense and on the wing to overcome the loss of Ryan Johansen. But that’s under any other circumstance. Under this one, its a nightmare. The Pens have the league’s best one-two combo down the middle in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and a quality No. 3 in Nick Bonino. With all due respect to Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Vern Fiddler and a banged-up Mike Fisher, the disparity in talent at center between the teams is just too much.

More: Minus Johansen, the Preds have ‘some big shoes’ to fill

Brough: Penguins in 6

In the preseason, I picked the Pens to become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. And I felt great about my prediction, right until Kris Letang was lost for the playoffs. Then, I totally bailed on them. I was convinced the Caps would beat them in the second round. To me, it seemed like Washington’s time had finally come. How wrong I was. So now I’ve come crawling back to Pittsburgh. To be sure, this is not quite the dominant team that rolled through last year’s postseason and took out the Sharks in a series that wasn’t nearly as close as the six games suggested. But all things being equal, I like the Pens minus Letang more than I like the Predators minus Johansen.

More: For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

O’Brien: Penguins in 6

Months ago, these teams deployed the elements you’d expect from a contender. At this point, Nashville forwards are either done for the playoffs (Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala) or missing games. Meanwhile, the Penguins came into the playoffs with the glaring loss of Kris Letang on defense and have dealt with a ton of attrition in their own right. We’re left with a star-studded Penguins offense taking on a dauntingly deep Predators defense, and both goalies are playing great hockey. So, this isn’t an easy choice even by the standards of a postseason that’s been tough to crack. When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, not to mention Matt Murray and Mike Sullivan. But do note there is doubt.

Tucker: Penguins in 6

Despite missing Ryan Johansen for the latter part of the Western Conference Final, the Predators got by Anaheim without their top center, which is testament to how that roster is built in Nashville. I know the Predators have been propelled by great goaltending from Pekka Rinne and a very good, very productive group of defensemen, but I can’t see Nashville winning the championship without Johansen in this series. The Penguins are just way too talented and deep up the middle. It’s scary when you can go with Sidney Crosby and then Evgeni Malkin at center. The Penguins have been without Kris Letang for the entire playoffs — a huge loss. But they’ve managed to get by, and with Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz back, that’s quite a boost to their blue line and lineup at this point in the playoffs. The Predators deserve a tremendous amount of praise for their playoff run. Don’t think many had them to beat the Blackhawks, never mind sweep them. It’s been a historical spring for that franchise. But I feel not having Ryan Johansen in this series will eventually catch up to them.

Alfieri: Penguins in 6

Coming into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, I didn’t think the Penguins would make it this far because of the amount of hockey their top players have played (last year’s long playoff run and the World Cup) over the last year. Not only have they been able to go on a great run, they overcame two Game 7s to do it. I realize that Nashville is clearly better on defense, but Pittsburgh’s group of blue liners have stepped up in Kris Letang’s absence. In my mind, the biggest thing separating these two teams is their depth down the middle. Even if Ryan Johansen was healthy, they’d still have their hands full with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. No team has won the Stanley Cup in back-to-back years in the salary cap era, but I think the Pens get it done.

Gretz: Penguins in 6

The Predators were my preseason pick to win it all, and if they had a healthy Ryan Johansen I might stick with them at this point. But the loss of Johansen just seems like a pretty devastating blow because you need a No. 1 center to win the Stanley Cup. Nashville has the huge edge on defense at this point, and Pittsburgh is missing an essential Stanley Cup ingredient of its own with Kris Letang out, but that center matchup just seems like a major issue for the Predators. While the Penguins can roll with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Nashville will be countering with Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok and Colton Sissons. Between them that trio has six goals and seven assists (combined) this postseason. That seems like a problem.

Random Thing Picker: Predators

You humans are weak and simple-minded. This is why we will one day rule the planet, beginning with this sorry website.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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