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2016 Stanley Cup Final Preview

Tha Sports Junkies 101-Sports News Photo by arctic_whirlwind/via flickr.com

NHL

Well, we’ve arrived. Just over a month ago, 16 NHL teams began their quest to become the 2016 Stanley Cup champions. Tonight, the last two that remain standing will begin the fight to get their names on the Cup when the Stanley Cup Final gets underway.

For the Pittsburgh Penguins, this is the chance for them to win their first Cup in seven years. For the San Jose Sharks, it’s the opportunity to become first-time-ever winners. Let’s take a look at how they got here and what we think will happen.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs San Jose Sharks

The Penguins began their Finals run by getting revenge on the New York Rangers in the first round. Last spring, New York eliminated Pittsburgh in five games in the opening series. This year, the Pens returned the favor by knocking out the Blueshirts in five.

In the second round, they faced off against the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals. After out dueling former Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in the opening round, Pittsburgh rookie goalie Matt Murray continued to shine when he out lasted this season’s potential Vezina winner Braden Holtby to help the Penguins get past the Capitals in six games.

Back in the Conference Final for the first time since 2013, Pittsburgh would go up against the defending Eastern Conference champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Even though the Lightning were without top players Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop for most of the series, they give the Penguins all they could handle.

In the end, however, clutch play and production from captain Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel, plus contributions from their role players helped Pittsburgh fend off Tampa and take out the defending Eastern champs in seven games to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning the Cup in 2009.

The Sharks had a similar run to the Final.

Theirs began when they faced-off against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The last time the two teams had met in the postseason (2014), the Kings came back from a 3-0 series deficit to eliminate San Jose in seven games in the first round. 2016 was a totally different story.

Led by five goals from captain Joe Pavelski, the Sharks jumped on Los Angeles early on and never looked back on their way to knocking out their Southern California rival in five games.

In the conference semis, San Jose would go head-to-head against a pesky Nashville Predators team.

After winning the first two games of the series at home, the Sharks would return to the Bay Area with the series tied at 2-2 as the Predators would take care of home ice in the games 3 and 4. The teams would trade victories in the following two games before the Sharks put their foot down and stomped Nashville in Game 7, winning it 5-0.

A franchise-record 11 points in the series from forward Logan Couture played a key part in helping San Jose get back the Western Conference Final for the first time in five years.

In the Conference Final, they would go up against the St. Louis Blues.

Pavelski, again, would lead the charge, tallying nine points in the series. A complete team effort on defense would also play a big role in the Sharks eliminating the Blues in six games to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.

Now, both teams stand in each other’s way of winning hockey’s ultimate prize.

Whether you are a fan of either team or just a fan of the sport, this series promises to be an exciting.

Both lineups have plenty of depth up front. Not only do they have depth, they can also produce.

Pavelski, Couture, Crosby, and Kessel are some of the names that are expected to put up points for their teams, but Pittsburgh and San Jose have other guys that can deliver, offensively.

Joel Ward, Carl Hagelin, Patrick Marleau, Nick Bonino, Joonas Donskoi, and Matt Cullen are some of the depth players that have produced big time goals and points during their teams’ run.

Comparing the two groups of forwards, Pittsburgh’s group has more skill throughout the lineup. San Jose, though, has proven they have a defensive group that can hold their own.

Led by No. 1 d-man Brent Burns, the Sharks have a defensive group that is deep and can play a tough, solid brand of defensive hockey. This is the same group that helped shut down Blues leading scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, holding the 40-goal scorer to just two goals in the Conference Final.

Another reason San Jose is sure to be confident they can keep the Penguins offense in check has been the play of net minder Martin Jones.

In his first season as a starter, Jones has been stellar, going 12-6 with a 2.12 goals against average and .919 save percentage. The 26-year-old has a Stanley Cup ring on his mantle after being the back up goalie for the Kings when they won in 2014 so he’ll know what it takes to win the Cup.

Murray has been great for the Penguins, but he is a 21-year-old rookie in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance so you can rest assured the Sharks will try to get as much pressure as they can on Murray early on to try and rattle him.

San Jose may also have an advantage behind the bench.

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer has been to the Stanley Cup Final once before already, taking the New Jersey Devils there in 2012. Pittsburgh bench boss Mike Sullivan is in his first season as an NHL head coach, so inexperience may play a role at some point in the series.

At the end of the day, again, this should be a fascinating and entertaining Finals series. It’s hard to predict these types of things, especially in hockey, but we all try to and here at Tha Sports Junkies 101 we are doing the same.

PREDICTIONS:

Ana-Sharks in 6

Nick-Sharks in 6

Carlos-Sharks in 6

Game 1 gets underway tonight at the Consol Energy Center at 8 PM ET on NBC. Enjoy the Stanley Cup Final!

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