Biggest stories from the Conference Finals, Stanley Cup Finals preview
The excitement of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals is still high with only two teams remaining. The Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks will battle it out for Lord Stanley starting Monday, May 30 at Consol Energy Center at 8:00 PM on NBC. My most recent predictions were nearly perfect. The one flaw was San Jose winning in six, not seven like I predicted. I then had San Jose going on to defeat Pittsburgh in seven games and capture the programs first Stanley Cup. We have a very exciting Stanley Cup Finals on deck.
Did Stamkos’ return throw off the Lightning? Lightning take Pittsburgh the distance with numerous injuries
Steven Stamkos returned to the lineup in game 7, which came as a surprise to some. It was his first game of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The question is, did his return throw off the Lightning? The Lightning were outshot for most of the series, most recently 39-17, but just seemed out of whack with Stamkos in the lineup. It may just be me. They may have just ran into a team that wanted it more than they did. Regardless of the outcome of the series, the Tampa Bay Lightning are worthy of praise. Anton Stralman returned to the lineup in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they were missing Steven Stamkos up until game 7, Erik Condra and JT Brown. Not to mention their giant of a goaltender, who took them to the Cup finals last season, went down in game 1 and didn’t return. Those aren’t minor players to be missing. They are all part of a well-oiled machine with Jon Cooper at the head. The fact that they got so far is something to marvel.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s dismal performance, reaction from fans
This was unexpected. St. Louis Blues superstar, Vladimir Tarasenko, was held to just 2 goals and a -4 rating thanks to the Sharks. The 2 goals that he scored weren’t until the third period of game 6. A 5 game goal drought for one of the league’s most prolific scorers was shocking. Want to know what is more shocking? The trade Tarasenko buzz that surfaced after the game. Really, one bad playoff series and you want to trade your best player? I don’t know if Blues fans realize that Tarasenko and the Blues agreed to an 8-year contract worth $60 Million last July. He is not going anywhere; even Elliotte Friedman is speculating it. Despite the rumors that the Blues are unhappy with him, there would have to be a pretty big discrepancy to move him.
Sharks stay on top across the board
The Sharks carried their offensive dominance with them throughout the Western Conference Finals. What’s different this time is that Logan Couture stole the assists lead from Brent Burns (16). For fans that like goal scoring and advocate for changes in order to have higher scoring games, the Sharks have been a treat. This is a big reason why I think they will win it all for the first time this year.
#2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #3: San Jose Sharks
3 Players to watch for each team:
Matt Murray: Matt Murray has stolen the spotlight and is hoping to steal the Stanley Cup. Now 22 years old, he is 11-4 with a .924 SV% and 2.21 GAA. Murray has his toughest task ahead of him, dealing with the explosive Sharks offense.
Joe Pavelski: Captain America has thrived as newly appointed captain of the Sharks and has been sensational all year. He is the Conn Smythe favorite in my opinion, unless Pittsburgh wins. He is a weapon on a team full of plenty of fire power. If that is the case I would have to think Matt Murray is the favorite. All of this could change as the Finals progress.
Phil Kessel: Will Phil the thrill eat cheeseburgers along with Lord Stanley for the first time? We’ll have to wait and see. He will need to keep putting the puck in the net to strengthen his chances. Kessel has one of the league’s most lethal wrist shots and has been instrumental in the Pens success.
Logan Couture: Couture has torched the score sheet. He currently leads the league in playoff assists (16) and points (24). I, along with others, wasn’t expecting this kind of playoffs from Couture; he has been a pleasant surprise and needs to continue to make things happen.
Sidney Crosby: Sid scored three of the Pens four game winning goals in the Eastern Conference Finals and they arguably wouldn’t be where they are without him. The Captain will need to give his all and come up clutch like he has so many times if he wants ring #2.
Brent Burns: Burns is a beast, plain and simple. His shutdown presence and offensive skill are like no other defenseman in the league. He is just a scary dude. Sidney Crosby and the speedy Pens forwards better watch out and always keep their heads up.
The Sharks are chomping at the bit to play in their first Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history, no pun intended. While on the other side, the Pens look to lift Lord Stanley for the first time since 2009. The Sharks have come together and made something special, while the Penguins have rallied around Matt Murray and Pascal Dupuis. Many fans have used #DoItForDuper throughout the playoffs. For those who don’t know, Pascal Dupuis was a member of the 2009 Championship team and recently had his career cut short due to blood clots. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will look to lift that elusive Stanley Cup. Now teammates after being drafted 1 and 2 in the 1997 NHL draft. Pittsburgh defense could be their Achilles heel, while the Sharks really don’t have a glaring weakness. Both teams will have their hands full and have a lot of depth. Both teams also have new coaches, who will look to win a Stanley Cup in their first season with their respective teams. Will it be DeBoer or Sullivan? This is going to be a special Stanley Cup Finals. California will be in Bedlam if San Jose wins and Pittsburgh will welcome Lord Stanley back after some time removed. San Jose in 7.
*Image Source: www.nhl.com