PITTSBURGH — For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will play in a Stanley Cup Final tonight.
Here’s how the Preds are expected to look in Game 1 against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena:
Filip Forsberg — Colton Sissons — Pontus Aberg
Viktor Arvidsson — Mike Fisher — James Neal
Colin Wilson — Calle Jarnkrok — Craig Smith
Frederick Gaudreau — Vernon Fiddler — Austin Watson
The big omission up front is Ryan Johansen, the Preds’ No. 1 center who’s been diagnosed with acute compartment syndrome and won’t play in the final. Kevin Fiala was also lost for the playoffs after getting hurt in the second round.
Johansen was acquired last year to give the Preds the type of elite center they’d been missing. Obviously, the timing of his injury couldn’t have been much worse.
“We lost a lot of offense and a big, heavy, strong centerman in Johansen,” said Sissons. “There’s gonna be some big shoes for us to fill.”
Of note, Wilson was absent from this morning’s skate. If he doesn’t play for whatever reason, expect Cody McLeod to take his spot.
Roman Josi — Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm — P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin — Yannick Weber
This is the strength of Nashville’s roster. Essentially, the Preds have two first pairings at their disposal, and head coach Peter Laviolette deploys them as such.
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin told reporters yesterday that it’s like the Preds have “four Karlssons,” referring to Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban.
That’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s arguably the best top four in the league.
Pekka Rinne (starter)
Juuse Saros (backup)
Rinne has been excellent in these playoffs, compiling a 12-4 record with a .941 save percentage. This after a regular season where his save percentage fluctuated wildly from month-to-month.
“I think we started off really well (in the playoffs) against Chicago, then you gain some confidence, and personally I was playing well,” Rinne said. “Once that ball starts rolling you feel better and better and things start to go your way. I feel the biggest thing is as a team, for a long time in the regular season we were trying to find consistency and at times we didn’t do a good job. I feel like this postseason we’ve been really consistent and solid and playing really good hockey for 16 games now.”
Rinne has been so good that Saros has yet to even play a second of the postseason.