NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks; you’ve done it. Thirty teams back in October dreamed of making it to this point, and now only two teams remain. The battle has been a long and grueling one, sometimes even impossible, but ask any player right now if it was worth it, and they’ll all tell you yes.
For some players, specifically Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, the wait has been very long. In 19 seasons, Thornton has never had the chance to play for the Stanley Cup, while for Marleau; the wait has been 18 years. Both players will look to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Given their age, they may not get another chance.
On the other side, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury are all looking to add Stanley Cup #2 to their resume. Deemed the greatest player in the world right now, Crosby hasn’t had a playoffs to remember, but he will get the chance to remind the world that he can make a difference on the biggest stage (2010 Olympics for those of you who don’t remember). It’s been six years since the Penguins last won a Stanley Cup, but Pittsburgh fans are eager to see the trophy make its way back to the state of Pennsylvania.
So who wins the Stanley Cup between these two teams? Easy:
Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. San Jose Sharks
Prediction: San Jose in 7
At the end of this season, this San Jose Sharks team will go down in history as the first team to win a championship in franchise history. Its’ been a long road for the Sharks, and their time is now.
San Jose has been a dominant team from the get-go in these playoffs. As great as Thornton and Marleau have been so far, it’s really been the play of three players that have helped them get here; Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Martin Jones.
Couture leads all players in the playoffs with 24 points, while Pavelski leads the way with 13 goals. In order for a team to be successful, you’re best players have to be your best players, and that hasn’t always been the case with the Penguins.
Crosby & Malkin have been good in the playoffs—both totaling 15 points each—but they haven’t been the best players for their team at any point. Let’s be honest; if it weren’t for Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin and future hotdog eating contest winner Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh wouldn’t be here. The ‘HBK” line, as we’ve come to know them, has carried the team so far, but for the Penguins to win the cup, Crosby and Malkin need to elevate their game to another level. Considering how good Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been in these playoffs, it may not happen.
Vlasic has played a huge part in shutting down the opposing team’s top players. The list includes players like Tyler Toffoli, Filip Forsberg and Vladimir Tarasenko. Outside of the final five minutes in game six, Tarasenko was invisible, and that’s largely due to Vlasic. If he can shut down Crosby & Malkin the same way he shut down Tarasenko, this series may be done after five. That task though is a tough one. Shutting down one play is possible, but two may be a lot to ask.
That’s where Martin Jones comes in. He’s started every game for the Sharks so far this postseason and has been a lock in the crease from game one, something that hasn’t been true for Pittsburgh. Jones will once again be counted on to make the big saves when he team needs it the most. The Penguins have a ton of dangerous weapons that can fill the net, and even one bad goal could change the series in a hurry.
For Pittsburgh, Matt Murray is going to need to dig deep and bring his game back up to the level it was against Washington. His inexperience is his biggest weakness, but he’s proven he can play with the best and should be the starting goalie every time his team takes to the ice. He needs to steal one for his team, no question about it, but if that’s the only way Pittsburgh can get past San Jose, it will not be enough.
One thing is for sure; this series will be interesting. Maybe the NHL doesn’t think a Sharks-Pens final is appealing to the rest of the NHL universe, but if you’ve watched a considerable amount of games in theses playoffs, the two best teams are right here. It’s been a great Stanley Cup playoffs, and the cherry on top starts Monday night.