Penguins get Hornqvist back for Game 1 of Stanley Cup final

Posted May 30, 2017

But as Crosby established himself as the face of the National Hockey League, questions inevitably surfaced about how much Malkin enjoyed being the second-best player on his own team.

Big dogs vs. underdogs: The Penguins are trying to become the first team in 19 years to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

On paper at least, there was one area the defending champion Penguins appeared to have an indisputable advantage: playoff experience.

Boucher pointed out that one factor in penalty-kill success in the playoffs is that goaltenders are at their best, "their most alert".

"You have to keep him in the net", said Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist, a former teammate in Nashville. "We're not flawless on some nights by any stretch. I'm lucky to play on a team with Sidney Crosby".

The pair is already on the exclusive list of US coaches to win the Cup: Bill Stewart with the Blackhawks in 1938, "Badger" Bob Johnson with the Penguins in 1991, Tortorella with the Lightning in 2004, Laviolette with the Hurricanes in 2006, Dan Bylsma with the Penguins in 2009 and Sullivan with the Penguins a year ago. "We just beat a really good team that was a defense-first team, always had numbers back, tried to limit opportunities off the rush, and had more of a counterattack mindset".

But this postseason has already been a grind.

While the Penguins' stars may be motivated, they know that they have a major challenge from the Predators. With Fisher, Smith, Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen all sidelined, Nashville wrapped up the Western Conference final against Anaheim with four of its top nine forwards on the shelf.

The Penguins need to be able to take control of games early, especially in the Finals. Brown, who raised the Cup in 2012 and 2014, is one of just two USA captains to win it after the Stars' Derian Hatcher in 1999.

"It's a pretty unbelievable feeling to be here, but we're smart enough to know that there's quite a lot of work to be done", said Cullen. "Everyone knows that on the planet". And for one night, they are toasting the teams that gave up on them.

Nashville has developed a comfort zone on the road and embraced the opposing atmospheres at the Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks in the conference final. Mike Fisher is the only Nashville player who has been in a Stanley Cup Final.

Along with Subban, they're led by a trio of Swedes in Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Mattias Ekholm, as well as 6-foot-5 Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne.

But unless there is complete collapse by Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins certainly get a huge nod up the middle.

"We played our hearts out and gave everything we have and we've got nothing to be ashamed of and we laid it out there and we put it on the line and guys were dog exhausted out there and battling and it just wasn't in the cards for us". The organization had Stanley Cup aspirations, and this change in regime marked a step in pursuit of that goal.

"Not full but like I said, those guys did such a good job didn't have to be the hardest shot to get through", said Schultz, who set a career -high with 51 points during the regular season and has added another 10 in the playoffs. "He, more than anybody, understands the position we're in". This is something they really have to worry about over the course of this entire series. He didn't say who would come out of the lineup.

Coming out of the West, the Predators are somewhat of an unknown opponent for the Pens.

Pick: Penguins in seven, with three or four games going to overtime. Top center Ryan Johansen needed emergency, season-ending surgery for acute compartment syndrome in his thigh.

If you're looking for a family friendly place to gather with local hockey fans to cheer on P.K. Subban, Pekka Rinne and the unbelievable Predators, Clarksville has the flawless solution. It will be interesting to see whether the officials allow the Predators to punish Sidney Crosby the way the Senators were allowed to abuse the league's signature star.