Before the 2018 NHL playoffs even began, the possible matchup between the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets was viewed as arguably the best series of the postseason, with these two being legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Well, there is a strong case for that holding true, as we are now on to a Game 7 to cap off a wild series.
Throughout the postseason lineups, these may be the top two teams in hockey. But one has to go home after Thursday night. So with a mountainous challenge ahead of each club to even advance to the Western Conference Final, what are their odds of hoisting the Cup?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the favorites to win it all, according to OddsShark, after cruising to the Eastern Conference Final in 10 games. The Vegas Golden Knights did the same, which explains their odds, but expect the winner of Thursday's Game 7 to move within the top two favorites since both are worse off with the contest being a toss-up.
So what do you need to know ahead of Game 7 before the Stanley Cup odds are shaken up?
Latest Stanley Cup Odds
Tampa Bay Lightning: 9-4
Vegas Golden Knights: 3-1
Washington Capitals: 17-4
Nashville Predators: 5-1
Winnipeg Jets: 5-1
Game 7 Schedule
When: Thursday, May 10 at 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live
Game 7 Preview
No Place Like Home?
Playing on home ice, especially in rowdy atmospheres like those in Nashville and Winnipeg, typically leads to a healthy advantage. That is not the case in this series.
Both teams boast two wins on the road, with the past victory for each coming in decisive fashion, as the Jets smoked the Predators 6-2 in Game 5 before Nashville came back with a 4-0 shutout in Game 6. Now we will see wheteher this unusual trend comes to light once more as the series shifts to Nashville for the first home Game 7 in franchise history.
Entering these playoffs, Nashville was 15-5 over the past three postseasons at Bridgestone Arena. In 2018, the Predators are a mediocre 3-3, with opponents outscoring them 22-19.
However, they are outshooting Winnipeg by a healthy margin in three home games, 129-101. But Connor Hellebuyck has been great for the Jets on the road this season, sporting a 2.38 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in the regular season. He has generally continued that play in the postseason, including a 47-save masterpiece in Game 1 against Nashville.
The Jets are 3-2 on the road this postseason while outscoring opponents 18-14, but history says that going on the road in Game 7—of which this will be the first in franchise history as the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers—does not favor Winnipeg, per Sportsnet Stats:
Recent play suggests that this history may not be a lock to continue, especially with these teams so evenly matched. If the Jets can weather the storm for the first 10 minutes to calm the crowd, they should be fine on the road, but a couple of quick Nashville goals, and it could unravel quickly for Winnipeg.
Which Stars Emerge?
The battle of which top players for Winnipeg and Nashville would outperform the other was fascinating considering the amount of star power on each club. The two sides have pretty much matched the other, hence we have a Game 7 upcoming.
The Jets boast the NHL's best group of top-six forwards, in addition to Dustin Byfuglien on defense. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler have combined for 27 points through 11 games. Byfuglien has 12 points while averaging 26 minutes, 21 seconds of ice time.
Patrik Laine and Paul Stastny have been stout, while Kyle Connor has dazzled at times, especially in Game 5, as Sportsnet highlighted:
No team in hockey puts out a top-four defense group like the Predators' Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. The foursome has a combined 25 points in 12 games, with each man playing at least 23 minutes per night.
Meanwhile, the team's top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen is carrying the load offensively, with 37 points. Forsberg put on a show in Game 5, as Sportsnet showed:
However, one notable player on each team is struggling a bit in this series.
Nikolaj Ehlers is an offensive dynamo as a speedy, shifty winger who scored 29 goals this year en route to 60 points. Yet he hasn't scored this postseason and has just three assists in this series.
On the other hand, Kyle Turris was brought over in the Matt Duchene trade to stabilize Nashville's top six, but he has just three assists this postseason and two points against the Jets.
The play of each team's best players will go a long way toward deciding this series, but a breakout performance from either Ehlers or Turris could be the difference in Game 7.
Pekka Rinne has been the backbone of the Predators for the past 10 years, compiling a 311-168 record, 2.37 GAA and .919 save percentage in his career. Nashville will go as far as he takes them, and in the postseason, they need more.
The Finnish netminder sports a 43-39 record in the playoffs, with a 2.43 GAA and .916 save percentage. He has sparkled at times while looking lost at others, with last year being a perfect example. He blanked the Chicago Blackhawks, with just three goals allowed on 126 shots in a first-round sweep. But he fell apart against the Pittsburgh Penguins, allowing 14 goals and a .888 save percentage to lose the Stanley Cup Final.
This postseason, Rinne has not been good enough for Nashville to reach its potential. His numbers are pedestrian, at 7-5, a 2.94 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Against the Jets, he has a 3.17 GAA and a .906 save percentage, and the series has been a microcosm of his overall playoff inconsistency.
In wins, Rinne notched games of 46, 32 and 34 saves, allowing just five goals combined with a shutout in Game 6. In losses, he was pulled after conceding three goals on 16 shots in Game 1 and was lit up for 11 goals in total in Games 3 and 5.
His best games seem to come following losses, as NHL Network relayed:
He must string together consecutive great outings for the first time this series or else Nashville will be going home. A player of his caliber, who has been one of the best goalies in the NHL for the past decade, should be playing better in the postseason. At 35, this could be his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup, so the pressure is on him to show up Thursday.
Statistics are courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.