The entire season now culminates with two teams fighting for four wins to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins open up at home versus the San Jose Sharks on Memorial Day. The way these playoffs have unfolded this appears to be a very even battle between East and West. Each team had a 5 game first round series victory, then alternated 6 and 7 game series in the next 2 rounds, so they come in having played the same number of games. While both teams have been impressive and dersvere to be here, neither has put together enough of a dominant stretch that makes a Final prediction a clear call.
The Pens were not having a good season and Sidney Crosby’s abilities were being questioned. Management intervened in December and replaced head coach Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan, calling up their head minor league coach. Sullivan initiated changes to get the Pens moving with speed at all times and scoring more. He spent 3 different tenures as an assistant coach to John Tortrella and also carries the traits of being direct and honest with players. In the playoffs he has played musical goalies a bit, but has used Matt Murray the most with 11 of the 12 wins. Otherwise their game has not changed much from the big run they made to get into the playoffs. One big injury is on defense with Trevor Daley breaking his ankle in round 3. Phil Kessel leads the team with 18 points.
San Jose Sharks
Last season the Sharks missed the playoffs altogether. In the offseason they brought in Pete DeBoer as head coach. DeBoer had solid results in New Jersey most recently, and Florida to start his NHL tenure, taking the Devils to the Cup Final in 2012. The Sharks have had a solid run in the Patrick Marleau / Joe Thornton years, but never made the Cup Final. Joe Pavelski developed into a 40 goal scorer and now captain of the team, with Thornton and Marleau still around. They have a deadly power play and overwhelmed opponents at times. However, they have had 6 and 7 game series so calling them dominant is tough. Their goaltending has been solid all season with Martin Jones having come over from LA indirectly. In round 3 Jones did look a bit shaky at times in the mid- to late-point of the series, but finished up strong. Jones was with LA as they won their last Cup, so he has experience of being there, though not winning the Cup as a starter. Logan Couture leads the league with 24 postseason points and San Jose has 3 players with 18 or more points.
Overall I will take the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup based on their stretches of dominance over some very fine teams in the first 3 rounds, their dominant power play, and the matchup versus Pittsburgh man for man.