The Stanley Cup Final is set to begin on Memorial Day in Pittsburgh. The home team has not been to a Stanley cup final since 2009, but history has shown that the Penguins are most dangerous on the NHLâ€™s biggest stage. San Jose are the new kids on the block when it comes to Stanley cup appearances, as this is the first in franchise history, but despite lack of experience in a Finals series, the Sharks look stronger than in years past. This yearâ€™s Stanley Cup Finals should prove to be an exciting one.
Stanley Cup Veterans
It has been seven years since the Penguins last Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and this season they look just as strong as the 2008-2009 series when they won last. A surplus of Stanley Cup experienced players come to mind when looking at the Penguinsâ€™ roster with Crosby, Letang, Kessel, Kunitz, and Malkin all sporting the yellow and black sweaters. Team captain Sydney Crosby has not missed a step these playoffs, and his 6 goals & 15 points shows that the captain is Finals ready. Another improvement for the Penguins is the return of defenseman Kris Letang who will face San Joseâ€™s top-line. Pittsburgh looks ready to go for Game 1, but will have a fight on their hands coming from San Jose.
New Kids on the Block
The San Jose Sharks have made the Stanley Cup Finals, and no, this is not a joke. The Sharks finally look like a team that can go all the way and not fall into their tradition of leaving each season empty-handed. After a great 2016 season, the Sharks managed clinch the third seed in the Pacific Division. The Sharks outlasted the rest of their California counterparts (The Ducks and Kings), and hard-nosed hockey has landed them as the co-headliners for the NHLâ€™s main event. San Jose is backed by the blue-line presence of Brent Burns and the strong chemistry of Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. The main advantage for the Sharks is their chemistry.
Pavelski, Thornton, Couture, and Marleau have a strong relationship and San Jose has become one of the top-scoring teams of the Playoffs. Burns also makes a difference offensively from the blue-line and hammers pucks to the net causing tip-in opportunities. For the first time in years, the Sharks look strong all-around the ice.
Sharks have the Edge in Goal
The Sharks are led in goal by former Kings back-up Martin Jones this season, and Jones has definitely held up his end of the bargain. He has posted 2.12 goals against during the playoffs and has been nearly unstoppable. The Sharks will stay with Jones going into Game 1, but are still confident that back-up James Reimer can take over in case of an emergency. The Penguins have been plagued with goalie issues this season. For most of the regular season, Pittsburgh was carried by starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been the Penguins go-to man for years. Starting the playoffs, Fleury suffered an injury, forcing the Penguins to put Matt Murray between the pipes, and Murray has been lighting up the goal in his short tenure as the Penguinsâ€™ goalie. In this seasonâ€™s playoffs he has recorded a .924 save percentage and he has shown that even in his young age(22 years-old) he has the potential to be a world class goalie. The question for Pittsburgh though, is if Fleury is healthy will he get back in net for the remainder of the series or will Murray keep his spot in the crease? Only time will tell.
This edition of the Stanley Cup Finals is looking to be one for the ages, and history has been made even before puck-drop in Game 1 because of the Sharks 1st time appearance. If the Sharks go one to raise the Cup, it will finish Californiaâ€™s Stanley Cup trifecta, and solidify the Golden State as hockey state. If Pittsburgh raises Lord Stanleyâ€™s Cup for the 4th time in team history, it will enshrine Canadaâ€™s golden boy, Sydney Crosby, into hockey history once again, making him a gold medalist and two-time Stanley Cup champ. Whichever way this series goes, it seems like it will shape up to be an exciting two weeks.