Stanley Cup Finals
Sharks in 6
The long journey that began in October has come down to two teams, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks are the last two teams standing in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Both team in the finals arrive after seasons of redemption and resurgence. Since winning the 2009 Stanley Cup, the Penguins have known nothing but playoff disappointment as poor defense and poor goaltending often became their Achilles heel. The Penguins have also had to deal with injuries as Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion and Evgeni Malkin suffered a knee injury over the last six season. While the Sharks and playoff failures became a year expectation in San Jose, with no big collapse than in 2014 when they saw a 3-0 lead evaporate against their arch rival Los Angeles Kings.
A big part of the Sharks run to the Stanley Cup Finals was their first round takedown of the Kings. The Sharks were resilient and clutch in the series, winning in five games as the first four games were all decided by one goal. In the finale the Sharks put a stake in the heart of LA, winning 6-3 at Staples Center. The second round series against the Nashville Predators had its ups and downs as the home team won all seven games. While the series went the distance the Sharks developed a home ice edge, dominating the four games at SAP Center as they outscored Nashville 18-4. The games the Predators won in Nashville included two overtime wins, that the Sharks could have had with a bounce here and there. In the Western Conference Finals, the Sharks won a key game early in St. Louis and won Game 5 on the road when needed as they continued their strong play at home. Martin Jones also was strong in the Conference Finals with two shutouts as the Sharks offense continued to light the lamp.
The Penguins path to the Stanley Cup Finals was much dicer, as they began without regular goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. However, Matt Murray who had only played a total of 12 NHL regular season games has been terrific. In 15 game Murray has posted a 2.22 Goals Against Average, while posting a .924 save percentage. In a twist goaltending has been key for the Penguins, as they dispatched the New York Rangers in five games, before taking down the President Trophy Champion Washington Capitals. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Penguins had their trials and tribulations, as they blew a lead at home in Game 5 and needed to win Game 6 on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning just to get to a seventh game. The Penguins would emerge victorious in seven thanks to two big goals from Bryan Rust to reach the finals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Finals without a real big postseason from Sidney Crosby or Evegni Malkin, as Phil Kessel has been their most reliable scorer with nine goals and a team high 18 points. Even in their biggest game it was Bryan Rust who provided the offense. However, eventually the Penguins will need more from Crosby and Malkin if the Penguins are to match what the Sharks have been doing in the postseason.
The Sharks have been simply amazing on offense as they have gotten scoring from everywhere and anywhere, with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Joe Thornton all scoring 18 or more points in the playoffs, matching the Penguins high man Phil Kessel. Couture has a team high 24 points, while Pavelski has scored a team high 13 goals, with Thornton leading with 15 assists. However, the biggest punch has been provided by Defensemen Brent Burns who has six goals and 14 assists, while playing brilliantly on both sides of the ice. The Sharks secret weapon has been Joel Ward, who has scored some of the most clutch goals in their run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Sharks have also gotten strong goaltending from Martin Jones, who has posted a 2.12 GAA, with three shutouts and a .919 save percentage.
The Penguins have the home ice edge, but the Sharks have all the other edges. The Sharks are getting scoring from everywhere, they have all the lines working they have strong goaltending and strong defense. The Sharks also realize the time is running out on them winning a Stanley Cup. After years of teasing their fans with one of the best records in the Western Conference season after season, they know this may be their last chance. A veteran team on a run and hot that is what often leads to a championship and the Sharks have that all. The Sharks will take their sip from the cup following Game 6.