The 2016 Stanley Cup Finals are now set. Earlier in the week the San Jose Sharks defeated the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the NHL’s championship series. On Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins joined the Sharks with a 2-1 victory in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With two goals from rookie Bryan Rust, with two assists from Evgeni Malkin, and with a defensive performance that only allowed 17 shots against, the Penguins won in front of their home fans to claim their third conference championship during the Sidney Crosby era. They will now look for their second Stanley Cup during the same era and fourth championship in franchise history.
Head coach Mike Sullivan, who is in the midst of a dream season, spoke following the Game-7 victory. Regarding the 2015/16 Pittsburgh Penguins coming together, he said: “I believe that we have evolved into a team in the true sense of the word and I thought tonight it was on display.” Sullivan also made remarks that expressed satisfaction at being part of something greater than one’s self.
San Jose and Pittsburgh will begin the Stanley Cup Finals on May 30th (8 pm ET) in a game that will come from Pittsburgh. That affords three full day’s rest to the Penguins, and they will avoid extra traveling as well.
The Sharks and Penguins met in the regular season twice with each team winning on the other’s home ice. However, they do not have any recent head-to-head experience with one another as their last meeting was way back on December 1st, nearly a full six months ago now. At that time, neither team was playing at the level that each team now is.
The Sharks will be playing in their first ever Stanley Cup Finals series however their coach, Peter Deboer, has coached in the finals before. Sullivan has not been this far as a head coach. However, he does have two keys players in Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that were part of the 2009 Cup run.
Crosby, in a postgame interview, looked ahead at the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals: “It’s gonna be fast hockey….it’s gonna be quite the series,” he said.
While Pittsburgh were one of the conference favorites heading into the post-season, the Sharks are a team who have surprised in the playoffs. San Jose finished third in their division and with teams like Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, and Anaheim it was hard to picture the Sharks winning the west. They truly have defied the odds and for certain they will ground some optimism in that.
But with home-ice advantage, the Pens promise to be favored over the Sharks and they have to be confident having taken out the Rangers, the Capitals, and the Lightning. Those were three of the pre-season Cup favorites and, in the case of Washington, the pre-playoff favorites. With a possible Game 7 scheduled for June 15th, the post-season will be wrapped up by mid-month. However I’ve been pretty strong on Pitt since late in the regular season, and I’m not backing down now. I don’t think the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals will last all that long.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5