The very first time that the San Jose Sharks took a lead in the Western Conference Final, they won the series. St. Louis were dispatched in six games sending San Jose to their first Stanley Cup Final in their 25-year history. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, met very tough competition in the form of the Tampa Bay Lightning. But the Penguins put in a very dominant Game 7 performance to take the victory and make the Stanley Cup Final.
Stanley Cup Final Schedule
Game 1: Monday, May 30th 8pm ET – San Jose Sharks @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Game 2: Wednesday, June 1st 8pm ET – San Jose Sharks @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Game 3: Saturday, June 4th 8pm ET – Pittsburgh Penguins @ San Jose Sharks
Game 4: Monday, June 6th 8pm ET – Pittsburgh Penguins @ San Jose Sharks
Game 5: Thursday, June 9th 8pm ET – San Jose Sharks @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Game 6: Sunday, June 12th 8pm ET – Pittsburgh Penguins @ San Jose Sharks
Game 7: Wednesday, June 15th 8pm ET – San Jose Sharks @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins Breakdown
Key Players: Let’s start off with the obvious, captain Sidney Crosby is not only Pittsburgh’s most key player, but he’s probably the most influential player of this year’s playoffs. Sid the Kid has six goals and 15 points during this post-season, which includes three game winners. Not so much a key player, but a key line. The HBK line – Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel – has been so infamous during these playoffs that there’s even a sandwich restaurant in Pittsburgh that have named a dish after them. HBK has been responsible for 17 goals and 45 points. There are so many stars in the Pittsburgh ranks, but the one who plays possibly the most integral role of the lot is Kris Letang. Letang sticks out as the only real star defenseman in Pittsburgh’s backline and plays like he owns that title. Letang has been exceptional on offence and defence with ten points, 39 hits and 31 blocked shots, whilst averaging a huge 28:47 minutes per game.
In-form players: Phil Kessel – four goals, two assists, +1 rating. Chris Kunitz – three goals, three assists, +2 rating. Evgeni Malkin – one goal, five assists, +4 rating. Bryan Rust – three goals, two assists, +6 rating. Matt Murray – four wins, two losses, .904 SV%, 2.48 GAA.
Conference Finals recap: After a closely fought seven game series, the Penguins overcame the Lightning to make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams fielded their 21-year-old goalies for the majority of the series, but it was Pittsburgh’s offensive that ruled the day – rather than inexperienced goaltending.
San Jose Sharks Breakdown
Key Players: His return from injury, and eventual return to full fitness, was instrumental to the San Jose Sharks making the playoffs. The man of whom we speak is, of course, Logan Couture. Now that he’s in the playoffs, Couture is the highest ranked player on points – with eight goals and 24 points. The Sharks center has been emphatic both at even-strength and on his team’s infamous power play. He also boasts the most blocked shots of any San Jose forward, with 19 in the post-season. San Jose has incredible depth throughout their lines, especially in defence, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic epitomises this. Though he may not be the highest scoring blueliner, or the biggest hitter, he does every more passive aspect of defence to the most elite level – which is why he always makes the Canada squad. He has 53 blocked shots, 15 hits, 11 points and a +13 rating in this post-season. Despite his decent regular season displays, there was a major question mark hanging over Martin Jones in the playoffs – mainly due to it being his first season as a team’s number one keeper. San Jose even reinforced the backup role by bringing in James Reimer. But the 26-year-old has overcome every obstacle so far. In his 18 playoff games, he’s earned 12 wins, six losses – half of which came in overtime – a 2.12 GAA, and a .919 SV%. Jones has been playing at a level far beyond his years and will continue to be integral against the rocket powered Penguins offence.
In-form players: Martin Jones – four wins, two losses, two shutouts, .920 SV%, 2.02 GAA. Joe Pavelski – four goals, five assists, +4 rating. Logan Couture – one goal, six assists, +3 rating.
Joe Thornton – seven assists, +4 rating. Tomas Hertl – three goals, two assists, +4 rating.
Round 1 recap: The key was to beat Brian Elliott, the keeper had been immense against the Blackhawks and the Stars. San Jose quickly solved him, causing disruption in St. Louis’ goalie ranks, earned back-to-back shutouts, and ended the Blues in six games. San Jose played a stunning defensive game and were clinical on offence. They’ll need to continue that in the Stanley Cup Final.
Pittsburgh v San Jose Breakdown
Season Series: Pittsburgh Penguins 1-1 San Jose Sharks
Top Scorers: Patrick Marleau – one goal, two assists. Evgeni Malkin – one goal, two assists. Phil Kessel – three assists. Brent Burns – one goal, one assist. Paul Martin – one goal, one assist. Last Post-Season Match-up: Due to the East vs West nature of the Stanley Cup Final, and the fact that the San Jose Sharks have never made it to the finals before, the two have never met in the post-season.
Whilst San Jose will marginally prefer the draw against Pittsburgh rather than Tampa Bay, due to Murray being a rookie and his replacement – Marc-Andre Fleury – still not being ready if needed, the Penguins still pose a huge threat. However, San Jose has been excellent at shutting down opposition offences, whilst being clinical when in possession of the puck. Holding back the Penguin attack will be their toughest challenge yet, but Pittsburgh’s defence and goaltender will, on paper, be easier to exploit than the likes of St. Louis’ and Nashville’s set up at the back. Whether this next fact will actually aid or hinder the men in teal is unknown yet, but ESPN records the Sharks as travelling 20,342 miles in these playoffs, and the Pens only going 9,614 miles. According to the regular season, San Jose love travelling, but the jet lag may hit them in the finals.
It will be an incredibly exciting Stanley Cup Final, with both teams currently hitting the peak of their form. But the San Jose Sharks look to have the upper hand in this. Sure they’re new to the Finals and don’t have Crosby and Malkin in their lines, but they are a solid outfit who have exceeded expectations; and it’d be the perfect way to start the sendoff for two of the franchise’s greatest players of all time, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.