PITTSBURGH -- It's game 102 of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins and No. 99 for the Nashville Predators. It's 7 1/2 months after the regular season began and it's finally time for Game One of the Stanley Cup final.
The teams face off Monday night in PPG Paints Arena, with faceoff on NBC shortly after 8 p.m. The Penguins are in the final for the fourth time in the last 10 years while this is a first for the Nashville franchise, born in 1998.
Here are Five Things to Know about the series opener:
Lineup cards: Both coaches played it close to the vest after today's pregame skate. Nasvhille is expected to have both Mike Fisher and Craig Smith back in its lineup although coach Peter Laviolette would only cryptically say all players on the trip are available to him if he chooses. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's Patric Hornqvist (upper body) is moving back into the Penguins' lineup and it appears Carl Hagelin will be a healthy scratch. Hornqvist should immediately return to the top power-play unit.
"I don’t think we ease anybody into the lineup," said Pens coach Mike Sullivan. "When our guys go into the lineup,they’re ready to play, period."
Experience matters: The Penguins, of course, won the Cup last year and have had plenty of runs on this stage. The only Predator to play in a final is Fisher, and that came in Ottawa's five-game loss to Anaheim way back in 2007.
"I think our guys are comfortable with that. We may not have Finals experience, but this group, the majority of it anyway, has grown with experience," Laviolette said. "... Going in, I don't feel like we're completely naked and void of experience. I feel like we have some experience. I think as you start to grow, you have to take on those new
experiences as well. That's where we are today."
In the nets: Nashville's Pekka Rinne is one of the league's longest-tenured goalies and gets his first chance at a final. He's been the best in the NHL in the postseason (12-4, 1.70/.941). Pittsburgh's Matt Murray got his job back during the conference final against Ottawa (3-1, 1.35/.946).
The key matchup: It's the Penguins' star-studded forward lines against the Predators defense. The intrigue will be which pair gets Sidney Crosby's line and which one plays Evgeni Malkin's line. There's some thought the tandem of Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban will get Malkin to try to match his physicality while Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis will get Crosby. Nashville, of course, doesn't have the last change here and may have to simply take whatever matchup it can get.
"If you had get three teams from our conference to be the three toughest to go through to get to the Cup final we've done that with Chicago, St. Louis and Anaheim," Ekholm said today. "Now we get the challenge to play against arguably two of the greatest center men in the world and we're ready for it."
History behind the bench: It's the first Cup final pitting two American coaches and Laviolette is just the fourth man in history to bring three different teams to the final. He won with Carolina in 2006 (after beating the Sabres in the East final), and lost with Philadelphia to Chicago in 2010.
"Everybody’s excited to be here, managers, coaches, players, staff, organization, fan bases," he said. "This is why we do what we do all year, to get to this point, or to hope to get to this point, where you actually get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup.
"For me, it means a lot. I mean, two of the most memorable points in my life, if you remove family, you just leave it in a professional business, will be two trips to the Finals. One of them I’ll hold close to my heart, and one of them hurts. But that’s a great feeling, to be able to be here and to compete."