The NHL Playoffs are down to its final two teams, the San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The teams will start to battle for the most coveted prize in hockey, the Stanley Cup, on Monday, May 30 in Pittsburgh.
The Sharks beat their nemesis, the Los Angeles Kings, in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs in five games. They went on to defeat Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators in seven games in round two. In the Western Conference Final, San Jose defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
The Penguins beat division foes the New York Rangers in five games in round one. In the second round, they defeated Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in six games. The Eastern Conference Final came down to the wire, but the Pens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
San Jose is 12-6 in 18 games this postseason. They’ve been led by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton. The Sharks can put the puck in the net and play a defensive game too. Each line is capable of chipping in while in the offensive zone. The Sharks play a fast-paced game; refusing to let up and wearing down the opposing team. Pavelski is leading the way with 13 goals, but six other players have scored five or more goals. Those players are Couture (8), Joel Ward/Burns (6), Joonas Donskoi/Tomas Hertl/Chris Tierney each have five goals. Matt Nieto, who has been out injured, could be back for Game 1 of the series.
Pittsburgh will play fast with speed and skill. They are similar to the Sharks in that all four lines can put the puck in the net. They are led by Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Nick Bonino. Bonino is expected to play after blocking a shot in Game 7 against the Lightning. The Pens have five players that have five or more goals this postseason. Those players are Kessel (9), Patric Hornqvist (7), Crosby (6), Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust each have five goals. The Sharks will have to pay attention to the line of Kessel, Bonino and Hagelin, who have been the Penguins best line this postseason.
Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the way for the Sharks defense. Burns can act like another forward out on the ice in the offensive zone since he used to play the forward position before being converted to a defenseman full time. Vlasic can also move the puck and skate, but he can also play good defense. The rest of the Sharks defensemen are defensive defensemen and don’t chip in a lot on the offensive side of the puck.
The Pittsburgh defense is led by Kris Letang, who can move the puck and join the rush. He’ll get the puck quickly out of his own zone, but he can be easily agitated, so the Sharks forwards will have to try and be in his face the whole series. The Pens will be without Trevor Daley, who was injured in the Lightning series. If Olli Maatta can get back to playing like his old self than he could make a difference in the series for the Penguins blueline.
Martin Jones has been the Sharks number one goalie all season. He has a 2.12 goals against average, and a .919 save percentage so far this postseason. He had to be pulled in one game during the series against the Blues because the team wasn’t playing well in front of him. He’s made the routine saves, but Pittsburgh could be the toughest opponent he has faced because they average almost 36 shots per game in the postseason.
Matt Murray took over the Penguins crease after an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury on March 31, and hasn’t looked back. He is 11-4 with a 2.21 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. Murray has kept his team in close games and given them a chance to win. He has made the spectacular saves and the routine saves. San Jose may not get many shots on net, but they take advantage of their opportunities.
The Sharks x-factor in this series will be defenseman Brent Burns. He can move the puck, skate and just act like another forward on the ice. Burns can also get back to make the defensive play, if needed. The Penguins penalty kill will be the x-factor in this series because the Sharks have been dominate while having the man advantage.
If the Penguins want to win the series then they’ll have to stay out of the box, and find a way to slow down the Sharks offense. If the Sharks want to win the series then they need to shut down the star players of the Penguins and win the special teams battle.
This series should be fast-paced since each team plays with a ton of speed, but the Sharks will defeat the Penguins in six games to win the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup.