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Stanley Cup Final: 5 most fascinating things about Penguins vs. Sharks

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the St. Louis Blues might have produced the best ratings scenario for the NHL in the U.S., but the Penguins vs. the San Jose Sharks produced the best everything else imaginable for the League.

There’s star power. There’s high-octane offense, physical defense and dynamic special teams play. There are few noticeable beards. And there are enough narratives to choke a Brontosaurus. 

Here are the five things that have me most intrigued, at first blush:

Speed Demons

As Sidney Crosby put it after Game 7: “It's going to be fast hockey.”

No kidding. The Penguins showed in their last two wins that they can skate most teams out of the building. Their puck placement in the attacking zone allows their burners to win races to the puck. Their ability to stretch their offense from blue line to blue line created countless chances for players like Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust. 

But speed is also the Sharks’ calling card, and they use their speed in a similar fashion to that of the Penguins. "They skate fast and support the puck. So they might look faster than they are, but they've got a lot of quick players. They've got a lot of aggressive-skating players. They've got a lot of guys that can motor,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

The only wrinkle here: The Sharks have looked mighty fast against a couple of plodding teams in the Kings and Blues. What happens against the Penguins, who can match or surpass their speed?

It’s a copycat league. God willing, the fact that two speedy teams are playing for the Cup will inspire others to streamline.

Dictating Terms

I know this is going to shock you, but the Sharks and Penguins were two of the best possession teams in the postseason.

The Penguins had a score-adjusted Corsi of 51.7 percent and the Sharks were at 50.8 percent, per War on Ice. They’re two teams that like to play with the puck, suppress shots (the Sharks have allowed the fewest shots per 60 minutes in the playoffs) and dictate the pace. So it’s going to be fascinating to see which teams is able to exert their will over the other.

Stifling The Stars

With due respect to the HBK Line, there hasn’t been a more dominant or important line in the playoffs than Joe Pavelski (13 goals), Joe Thornton (18 points in 18 games) and Tomas Hertl. There hasn’t been a supplementary scorer better than Logan Couture, who leads the NHL with 26 playoff points. And there hasn’t been a more dynamic player than defenseman Brent Burns, who has 20 points in 18 games and makes something happen every time he touches the puck. 

The Penguins have faced great offensive players in these players, but none that were firing like this.

Conversely, the Sharks have done a hell of a job taking out offensive players like Tyler Toffoli, Vladimir Tarasenko and Filip Forsberg. The Penguins offer a unique challenge, though: Three potent scoring lines, each with an elite player.

And this is why coaches get paid the big bucks.

Murray vs. Jones

Neither goalie had his best series in the conference final, but I’d give the advantage to the Penguins here. Murray has been calm, collected and confident beyond his years. Jones has been great, but with the puck support the Penguins have on the attack, I worry about some of those pucks he leaves on the ice after saves.

Finally …

A Weird Stat

ESPN dug up a interesting stat on the Stanley Cup Final:

This will be the seventh time in the past 15 seasons that the Stanley Cup finals features one team that went seven games it its conference finals series and one team that did not. The team coming off the Game 7 victory went on to win the Stanley Cup each of the previous six times -- so, advantage Pittsburgh Penguins over the San Jose Sharks. 

So shame on you, Sharks, for being too good.

We don’t have to make formal picks until Monday, but I’m leaning San Jose. Which hasn’t been my best look in the past.



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