Written by The Burgh Blog writer: Austin Tocco
2016 is a year of joy so far in the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Penguins are headed back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009. The Penguins defeated the favored Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals in game 7 by a score of 2-1 allowing the Penguins to advance. The last time the Penguins made it to the Eastern Conference Championship, the Boston Bruins destroyed the Penguins 4 games to 0. This year was a bit different, behind the stellar goaltending of Matt Murray and the offensive hero of game 7 Bryan Rust, the Penguins have finally made it.
Upon the conclusion of game 7 in Pittsburgh, the NHL proudly escorted the Prince of Wales Trophy to the center of the ice. The captains, smiling from ear to ear all held the trophy for the picture. Traditionally, the trophy is not touched, in fact, it has been a couple years since the Eastern Conference Champion has touched it. Sidney Crosby did not even hesitate, he picked it up and cherished the moment with his teammates. After all, the last time Crosby touched the trophy, they won the Stanley Cup, and a repeat would be remarkable.
The next opponent that stands in the way of the Penguins are the San Jose Sharks. The Western Conference Champions have had a significant journey up to this point in the playoffs. First, the Sharks were finally able to defeat the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs in 5 games. Then, the Sharks went on to defeat the Nashville Predators in 7 games. To win the conference title, they defeated the St. Louis Blues in 6 games in front of their home faithful. The Sharks are definitely running high right now, this is the first time the franchise has made it to the Cup Finals in their 25 year existence. The Penguins will have a difficult time against this team, the Penguins have only won one game in the history of the match-up at the SAP Pavilion in San Jose, California. Having only played each other 35 times since 1991, little is truly known between the two teams, much video will have to be watched. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have only played 10 career games against the Sharks. Crosby tallying 1 goal and 6 assists, and Malkin tallying 3 goals and 5 assists. The two headed monster will have to make their presence known in order to bring the Cup back to the City of Champions.
There are several key elements of the San Jose Sharks that you must know about before the Stanley Cup Finals begin Monday:
1. Veteran Leadership
The Sharks are a balanced lineup with many stars. Up and down the lineup, you have veterans who lead by example. The Sharks are led by Captain Joe Pavelski who has been lighting the lamp this post-season tallying a league best 13 goals and 4 game winners. Aiding in their Stanley Cup run is Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. There is no hole in the Sharks lineup, each and every player provides a unique role that has gotten them to this point. The big names of this team (Pavelski, Courture, and Thornton) always show up no matter what the situation, be prepared to see their names a lot through the Cup Finals. Hopefully, Murray can keep them off the scoresheet because once they get going, there is no stopping them.
2. Remarkable Defenders
In most situations at this point in the playoffs, the two teams left to battle for the Stanley Cup typically have stellar goaltending. Obviously with Chicago (Corey Crawford), Los Angeles (Jonathan Quick), and Boston (Tuukka Rask) all big named goaltenders. The Sharks goalie is Martin Jones, who in the world is Martin Jones. Jones was the back-up to Quick in LA for 2 years prior to being traded to the in-state rival, San Jose Sharks. This year, he started 65 games and won 37 of them. This year in the playoffs, Jones has won 12 out of 18 games played, has a save percentage of .919, and a GAA of 2.12. He also has 3 shut-outs. He has been a key to the Sharks success this year, in years past, the Sharks have lacked in that position, the GM did a wonderful job signing this young goalie to a 3 year, 9,000,000 dollar contract this past off-season. Not only is the goalie great, but the defense is hard to break. Leading the way defensively is Brent Burns, Justin Braun, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Paul Martin (formerly of the Penguins). All of these defensemen, minus Martin, can be an offensive threat and possess great vision on the ice. Any of these defenders have the ability to light the lamp or make a remarkable defensive play. Our offense will have to develop a way to somehow catch the defenders off guard if they want to score against the Sharks in this series.
3. SAP Pavilion
The SAP Pavilion, known as the “shark tank” is not an easy place to play and it has not been friendly to the Penguins over the years. The Penguins have only won 1 game ever in their building. The atmosphere at this arena has been ranked #1 in the NHL due to the crowd noise and entertainment. The Penguins will have to figure out how to deal with the crowd while on the road, especially Matt Murray. It is never quiet at the arena, but it would be quiet if the Penguins won both games on the road. It is not a very big arena, which really amplifies the noise of the crowd. It is hard to play under pressure especially for the Stanley Cup, yet alone in the SAP Pavilion in San Jose.
Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals begins Monday at 8:00 EST on NBC. Games 1 and 2 will be in Pittsburgh, games 3 and 4 will be played in San Jose. The Penguins have a tough road ahead of them, but if they stick to their game-plan, destiny will find its way back to the Steel City, where it belongs.
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