Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton didn't care about their opponent but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a preference. So yeah, the Sharks first time in a Stanley Cup Final coming against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin isn't exactly what I had in mind. That doesn't mean the Sharks can't win, obviously, but it'll be plenty difficult against a very, very good Penguins team.
So here we are. The Sharks reach the Stanley Cup FInal for the first time and take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, starting at Consol Energy Center on Monday. These teams split the season series 1-1 with the Penguins getting the better of the goals-scored battle 6-4 in all strengths but were dead even at 3-3 at even strength.
This Pittsburgh team is not the same one the Sharks saw back in November and December. The Penguins vastly improved after swapping coaches midway through the season — and now with Mike Sullivan in charge are one of the best teams in the NHL. Since January first, the Penguins posted the second-best score-adjusted 5v5 fenwick-for percentage in the NHL (55.2). The Sharks already beat the team with the best.
Right, so those Los Angeles Kings that seemed unbeatable were vanquished quicker than either of the teams the Sharks faced following 'em. Hockey is a funny game and the results of series don't always make a whole lot of sense — for once it's nice to see the Sharks on the right end of them.
San Jose's no slouch in the possession department (54.5) and goaltending is likely a bit of a wash while the Sharks' superior power play will match up against the Penguins mightier penalty kill. For a neutral, this series is going to be a blast. For the rest of us? Well, let's talk after it's all said and done.
If the Sharks pull off what will certainly be considered an upset, it'll complete an absolutely incredible run through the playoffs. San Jose beat the best, second-best and sixth-best score-adjusted 5v5 fenwick teams in this postseason. To win the Stanley Cup, they'll need to beat the fifth-best, too.
The Sharks are fourth in possession over the full season, but third since the New Year. They'll take on a Penguins team that's every bit as good and boasts offensive talent that oughta make you a little nervous. But if the San Jose defense can shut down Vladimir Tarasenko, Filip Forsberg, Shea Weber and Tyler Toffoli, I like their chances against the likes of Crosby and Malkin, too.