Playoff Hockey Roundup: Stanley Cup Final Preview

2016 Stanley Cup Final
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. San Jose Sharks

Game 1: Monday in Pittsburgh at 8pm ET (NBC, CBC)
Game 2: Wednesday in Pittsburgh at 8pm ET (NBCSN, CBC)
Game 3: Saturday in San Jose at 8 ET (NBC*, CBC)
Game 4: Mondy, June 6th in San Jose at 8pm ET (NBCSN*, CBC)
Game 5: Thursday, June 9th in Pittsburgh at 8pm ET (NBC, CBC)
Game 6: Sunday, June 12th in San Jose at 8pm ET (NBC, CBC)
Game 7: Wednesday, June 15th in Pittsburgh at 8pm ET (NBC, CBC)

This is the first time the two teams have ever met in the postseason. The Pens are making their fifth trip to the Stanley Cup Finals having won three Cups in 1991, 1992, and 2009, the Penguins’ most recent appearance; their other appearance was a loss in 2008 to the Red Wings. The Sharks are making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in this, their 25th season of operation. The two teams split their two matchups this season: a 3-1 Sharks win in Pittsburgh back in November, and a 5-1 Penguins win in San Jose back in December.

The Penguins enter the 2016 Playoffs as the second seed in the Metropolitan Division with 104 points. Pittsburgh was the hottest team in hockey as they matched up against the New York Rangers in the first round of Playoffs. The Rangers had taken down the Penguins in both 2014 and 2015 but the Pens were too hot for New York winning in five games. The second round brought us the second playoff matchup of Sydney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin and the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. Once again, the Penguins were too hot and were able to shut down the offensive juggernaut Capitals in six games. The Penguins faced their toughest challenge, surprisingly, in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning took a 3-2 lead but the Pens dominated Game Six and held off Tampa in Game Seven to win the East. Rookie Goaltender Matt Murray is an easy contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy but the “HBK” Line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel has annihilated their opponents combining for 17 goals and 45 points in the postseason.

The Sharks entered the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the third seed in the Pacific Division with 98 points. The Pacific Division had been up and down all season but the Sharks proved themselves series after series against tougher and tougher opponents. The first round saw the Sharks blast the LA Kings in five games to avenge LA’s rally from down 0-3 in 2014. The second round saw the wild card Nashville Predators take the Sharks to seven games, just as Nashville had done against the Ducks in the first round. However, the Sharks lost two of the three games in overtime whereas their average winning margin was over two goals per game. San Jose came into the Western Conference Finals as the underdog against the St. Louis Blues. The two teams traded haymakers as five of the six games were decided by at least three games but the Sharks walked away the champion of the West. Martin Jones has been outstanding in net for San Jose but the team has been led by Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, and Joe Thornton combine for 30 goals and 44 points.

Both teams are fast. Both teams can score, a lot. The 2016 Stanley Cup Finals will be a heavyweight fight with as many haymakers thrown as the West Final. Sydney Crosby will look to match Super Mario’s two Cups and continue to mold his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest players. The Penguins run to this final is eerily familiar to their last Cup run in 2009. A head coach firing and hiring (Mike Sullivan was hired in mid-December), by far the best record in the league down the stretch of the regular season, and absolute domination of the Eastern Conference in the Playoffs. It would be a storied ending to the Sharks’ 25th-anniversary to win the Cup and it would be “dream come true” ending for another ex-Boston Bruins player: Jumbo Joe Thornton. He and Patrick Marleau combine for the most playoff games with a Cup Final appearance. In fact, only two of the Sharks players have played in a Final before: Martin Jones and Dainius Zubrus. Mike Sullivan played for the Sharks in their first season and now, in his first season coaching the Penguins, he must prevent the Sharks from winning their first Cup. This series will be quite something but only one can walk away the final victor.

The Pick:

I’ve gone back and forth on this pick. Originally, I was picking the Penguins pretty much no matter which team came from the West. However, the Western Conference Finals showed the potential that the Sharks exhibited against a Blues team that I honestly thought was the complete package. Pavelski and crew have the speed and grit to match up with the Penguins and their phenom goalie in Murray. Two weeks ago, if I had been told to pick Pens/Sharks, I would have said Pens in Five. But now, I’m going with Sharks in Seven. This series has all the makings to go the distance. Conn Smythe Winner will be Logan Couture.

Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.

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