POSTED BY admin | Jan, 14, 2014 |

There are no shortage of storylines for a highly intriguing Stanley Cup final that opens Monday night in Pittsburgh as the Penguins host the Nashville Predators. It’s obviously not going to have the national cachet of LeBron Steph III but the intensely regional nature of hockey will certainly benefit from this series as a new market gets its first chance on the game’s biggest stage against this sport’s version of the Cavs or Warriors.

It’s easy to forget both of these teams nearly moved in 2007 and very well could be in different places today. The Penguins were long rumored to be headed to Kansas City until Mario Lemieux’s ownership group finally hammered out a deal to build their new arena, while the Predators were close to going to Hamilton, Ont., that summer until local ownership stepped in and purchased the team to keep it out of the hands of former BlackBerry mogul Jim Balsillie. Hamilton and Las Vegas were both reportedly on the Penguins’ radar as well.

Media Day is Sunday in PPG Paints Arena and here are some of the subjects the teams are sure to be addressing:

Going for a repeat The Penguins are trying to become the first team to win back to back Cup championships since the Detroit Red Wings of 1997 and 1998. Just by making the final, they’ve become the first expansion era team since 1967 to get to the final in consecutive years three times (1991 92, 2008 09 and 2016 17). With super teams dominating the landscape over the decades, we’ve never gone this far without a repeat champion. And the NHL’s drought without a repeat winner is the longest in the four major sports.

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Going for the first time The Predators were born in 1998 and had not played in a conference final until beating the Anaheim Ducks this spring. Now they’re playing for the Cup for the first time. So who does it leave among expansion era teams that have never had the chance? The list is now only Columbus, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Arizona. One can only imagine what the atmosphere will be like in Bridgestone Arena next weekend for Games Three and Four. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis that has baffled the offensive stars of the Blackhawks, Blues and Ducks. The Penguins, meanwhile, have not had Kris Letang for the entire postseason after neck surgery and are trying to take the rare step of winning the Cup without a true star on defense. They’re surviving with the likes of Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Brian Dumoulin and Ian Cole on the back end. Former Sabre Chad Ruhwedel, who suffered a concussion against Ottawa and may not be ready for the start of the final, has also seen big minutes.

You wonder how the Pens are going to be able to attack the Nashville back end, whether Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will have any more luck than did, say, Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko or Ryan Getzlaf. Said Pens winger Chris Kunitz, when asked by NBC about the Predators after his series winning goal against Ottawa: “They have four Eric Karlssons.”

In the nets Pekka Rinne, 34, has been the mainstay in the Nashville net since 2008 but had a relatively pedestrian regular season at times (2.42/.918). In the playoffs, he’s been a brick wall (12 4, 1.70/.941). Matt Murray led the Pens to the Cup last year but just got back in the net during the Eastern Conference final aftergetting hurt in the warmup prior to Game One of the opening round against Columbus. Since taking over in relief in Game Three at Ottawa, Murray is at 1.35 cheap cardinals jerseys and .946.

Crosby’s 12 months At age 29, Sid the Kid perhaps has never been better than he has in the last year. He won a Conn Smythe Trophy as the Pens beat San Jose in last year’s final, then led Canada to victory in the World Cup of Hockey in September. Now he has the Penguins back for another Cup run. Crosby led the NHL with 44 goals in the regular season, the second highest total of his career. He’s got seven goals and 20 points over 18 postseason games thus far.

Mike Harrington: Crosby makes major entry to highlight reel

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Canada, Crosby on top of the world heading into Cup clincher

Coaching In Mike Sullivan vs. Peter Laviolette, we have the first matchup of American head coaches in Cup history. Sullivan can become the first coach to go back to back since Scotty Bowman did it for the ’90s Red Wings. Laviolette won the Cup in ’06 for Carolina, lost the final in 2010 for Philadelphia and is just the fourth coach to lead three teams to the final, joining Bowman, Dick Irvin and Mike Keenan. Hall of Famer Phil Housley, the former Sabres star now a Preds assistant, figures to get a lot of attention because of the Nashville defense and because of the clear interest Buffalo and Florida have about talking to him about their head coaching slot when the series ends. New Sabres G


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