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Stanley Cup Final Preview: Who has the better coach?

Leading up to Monday's Game 1, Puck Daddy is previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks — on the ice and off the ice.

PITTSBURGH 

Aside from a six-game spell filling in for a suspended John Tortorella in 2014, Mike Sullivan had not been the man behind an NHL bench since 2005-06 season before he was named head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in December. He’d spend nearly the last decade as an assistant around the league and in a player development role with the Chicago Blackhawks a couple of seasons ago. 

Last June, Sullivan was given the opportunity by Penguins GM Jim Rutherford to run the bench for their AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre. When Mike Johnston was fired in December, Rutherford decided to promote Sullivan instead of any his NHL assistants because he wanted a new face in the room, someone the players didn’t know. 

Instantly, a flip was switched and the Penguins, who were 15-10-3 at the time of the coaching change, soon became one of the league’s fastest and best possession teams thanks to Sullivan (and some shrewd deals by Rutherford). Sidney Crosby, who saw his offense dip at the start of the season, found his game again and stormed up the points list. 

Sullivan's system has allowed the Penguins to showcase their team speed, which has allowed them to expose opponents. What the head coach preaches clicked with his group and a season that was looking dire blossomed into one with Stanley Cup dreams.

SAN JOSE

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and the Peter DeBoer bump.

The Sharks are DeBoer’s third stop in the NHL and everywhere he’s gone – Florida, New Jersey and now San Jose – his teams have shown a noticeable improvement in Year 1.

In his first year in Florida, DeBoer led an eight-point improvement for the Panthers only to see them miss out on a playoff berth due to a tiebreaker. The Devils reached the Stanley Cup Final and increased their regular season point total by 21 in 2011-12. And coming off their first playoff-less spring since 2003, the Sharks got back into the postseason this year and immediately slayed a demon in the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1.

There was a built-in foundation for DeBoer when he arrived in San Jose and he helped keep it together and led them to a revival.

ADVANTAGE: Even. Both have succeeded due to a much-needed change behind the benches of their respective clubs, but even with rosters primed for turnarounds, both Sullivan and DeBoer needed the buy-in from their veteran leaders. They got that and got it early, which has been enough to deliver postseason success and bring them each to within four games of a championship.

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