2016 Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Will The Penguins or Sharks Hoist The Cup?
The 2016 Stanley Cup Finals start tonight, as the San Jose Sharks face the Penguins in Pittsburgh. Here’s a preview of what to expect in this year’s battle for the NHL’s championship.
Stanley Cup Preview: Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs. San Jose Sharks (3)
History: The Penguins are playing in their fifth Stanley Cup Finals — and first since 2009, when they won the franchise’s third championship. The Sharks are making their first appearance in the Cup finals.
How They Got Here:
Pittsburgh: After the Penguins replaced head coach Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan 28 games into the season, the Pens soared to the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and the second-overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh beat the New York Rangers, 4-1, in the first round; upset the Washington Capitals, 4-2, in the second round; and edged the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
San Jose: The talented and experienced Sharks were able to grab the third seed in the Pacific Division, finishing sixth-overall in the West.
The Sharks knocked out the L.A. Kings, 4-1, in the first round; edged the Nashville Predators, 4-3, in the second round; and beat the St. Louis Blues, 4-2, in the Western Conference Finals.
Head-To-Head: The teams split two meetings. San Jose beat Pittsburgh, 3-1 on Nov. 21 and the Penguins topped the Sharks 5-1, on Dec. 1
How The Penguins Will Win The Stanley Cup:
Spread Out The Scoring: If all four lines contribute — and Pittsburgh doesn’t wait around for centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to carry them — the Penguins should have enough offensive firepower to win the Cup. The HBK Line of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin could have its star turn.
More Murray Magic: Rookie goalie Matt Murray replaced veteran Marc-Andre Fleury late in the regular season when the latter suffered a concussion. If Murray, who has gone 11-4 in the playoffs with a 2.21 goals-against-average and .924 save percentage, can continue that roll against the league’s best offense (3.50 goals per game), his team will hoist the cup.
Kill The Penalties: With defenseman Trevor Daley out, the Pens penalty killing unit will have to step up against the elite shooting of the Sharks, especially Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. If they can knock down San Jose’s man-advantage efficiency, they can beat them.
How The Sharks Will Win The Stanley Cup:
Check The Penguins Speed: San Jose is the superior checking team, but Pittsburgh is much faster. The Sharks, especially Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, will need to neutralize the Pens on the rushes to keep from allowing too many shots on goal.
Let Veterans Lead The Way: San Jose’s thirty-something leaders Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are each playing in their first Stanley Cup Finals. They need to show that they are hungry for more than an appearance.
Power Up: San Jose will win the Cup if they continue to convert at 27 percent on the power play. If Pittsburgh doesn’t have an answer for Thornton and Pavelski in those situations, they will get beaten.
2016 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Schedule & TV Times
Game 1: Monday, May 30: San Jose at Pittsburgh | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 2: Wednesday, June 1: San Jose at Pittsburgh | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 3: Saturday, June 4: Pittsburgh at San Jose | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 4: Monday, June 6: Pittsburgh at San Jose | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 5*: Thursday, June 9: San Jose at Pittsburgh | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 6*: Sunday, June 12: Pittsburgh at San Jose | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Game 7*: Monday, June 15: San Jose at Pittsburgh | 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC