Here we go.
It's Stanley Cup Final time, and that means a new -- or repeat -- champion will be crowned in four victories' time.
The playoffs started at 16 teams and have been whittled down to these two, the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, and now it's time for the final showdown. The ultimate battle. The grand hurrah.
And, of course, one final dose of prognostication.
After a perfect record in the conference finals (and, yes, the fact that there were fewer series surely helped the accuracy), here is the pick -- *braces self* -- for the Final:
STANLEY CUP FINAL
PROJECTED WINNER/SERIES RESULTS
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators over Pittsburgh Penguins
Look, this is not an easy call to make.
There are a lot of sirens going off in this particular writer's head when picking against the Pens, the one that could make Pittsburgh the first repeat champion since 1998. And maybe those sirens, perhaps intensified by the fact that the Pens made a fool of first- and second-round postseason predictions in this space, warrant attention. The title-winning experience, the sudden and justified ascension of Matt Murray, the highlight-reel scoring talent of Sidney Crosby, and countless others in Pittsburgh's overall pool of talent sure do.
But there's something about the Predators' energy that also cannot be ignored. Energy alone, of course, isn't going to stop Crosby or Jake Guentzel from going off in crunch time or Phil Kessel actually connecting on one of the breakaway chances he had against Ottawa in the conference finals, but it surely gives Nashville more than a fighting chance. With otherworldly goalie play from Pekka Rinne, a deep roster that's defined by resiliency and a defense that has a handful of blue-liners capable of giving fits to Pittsburgh's spacey offense, the Predators shouldn't be overlooked.
On paper, the Penguins should win this series and win it semi-handily, at least as long as their injury-riddled defense takes enough pressure off Matt Murray and the big-time players make enough big-time plays.
On paper, however, the Predators should also have been written off from the get-go of the postseason, when their 16th-ranked position, so-so goals-against total and .500 regular-season mark made them look like little more than first-round fodder against the Chicago Blackhawks. Since then, Nashville has captivated a raging fan base -- with home-ice advantage benefits, perhaps -- thanks to superb outings from Rinne, equally admirable efforts from the score-happy defensemen in front of him and an ability to fill in for missing X-factors (see: Ryan Johansen) with enduring success.
Maybe they haven't been the prettiest at times, these historic Preds. But neither have the Pens, especially considering their superior skill -- just observe the fact Pittsburgh needed double overtime in Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators to get to the Final.
In any event, this series should be wild. It should be fast. It should be physical. It will deliver a milestone winner regardless of the outcome.
And, to the anticipated delight of the audience, it could very well go the distance. Let's go Nashville in seven to cap off another unpredictably thrilling string of Stanley Cup playoff showdowns.