As the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators skate into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, hockey fans around the globe remain in awe and wonder of just how exactly this year’s championship will unfold. However, like all great sports sagas, the only thing we do know is to always expect the unexpected.
During the series’ first four games, a case could be made favoring the concept of home-court advantage, as Pittsburgh opened the series with an intimidating home crowd at PPG Paints Arena and earned a quick 2-0 series lead. But just as quickly as the Penguins gained a lead, it got away from them as the series headed to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where the Predators easily leveled the field.
Game 5, which kicks off at 8 p.m. on Thursday June 8 in Pittsburgh, will indeed be a turning point for both teams, with NHL history showing that an impressive 71 percent of Game 5 winners eventually go on to claim the championship. For captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, it is their opportunity to regain control and momentum after disappointing performances in Nashville in which they netted just two goals in as many games. Surely the thousands of passionate Pittsburgh fans backing them in the process will be a factor in Game 5, but the defending Stanley Cup champs will need to find a way to break the seemingly unbreakable Nashville defense.
Even the Pittsburgh power duo of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have become flustered by the overwhelming defensive front put up by Nashville’s Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and goalie Pekka Rinne, turning the major discussion of the series into a tactical game of cat-and-mouse offense and defense. They say “Offense wins games, defense wins championships,” a rhetoric that Nashville fans are hoping rings true for the Predators, who are seeking their first Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup final has only been pushed to seven games twice in the past decade: first in 2009 when the Penguins edged the Red Wings to take home the franchise’s third Cup, and again in 2011 when the Boston Bruins prevailed over Vancouver. While there is still much that is yet to be decided before fans start dreaming of a Preds-Pens Game 7 showdown, it is clear that this series has all the right components to qualify as a classic in the making.
The Penguins would become the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Red Wings did so in 1997 and 1998. The Predators are embracing the role of the underdog in pursuit of their first championship win. Whatever happens in the end will no doubt be memorable, but for now, it’s purely an exciting, unpredictable ride.