San Jose Sharks (+130) at Pittsburgh Penguins (-150, 5.5 o/u)
It’s taken a lot longer than Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton would’ve liked, but after 3,093 combined games in the NHL, the long-serving duo will finally play in their first Stanley Cup game. While their story no doubt warms the hearts of hockey fans everywhere, public sympathy alone won’t lead the San Jose Sharks (12-6, 5-4 Away) to a series win over the favored Pittsburgh Penguins (12-6, 7-3 Home).
The winner of Game 1 has taken eight of the last ten Cup finals, so the Sharks will look to steal a big one on Monday night in Pittsburgh (8:00 PM Eastern).
The Sharks and Penguins presence in the finals is a bit of shock to the staunch believers of defense winning in the playoffs. Pittsburgh and San Jose ranked third and fourth in goals per game in the regular season and carried that production into the playoffs, with the Sharks and Pens averaging 3.5 and 3.2 goals per game, respectively.
Even though they both light the lamp, they attack in different ways. The Penguins have blazing speed on the outside with players like Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, and they use that speed to get a ton of pucks on net. Pittsburgh led the NHL in shots in the regular season, and average 35 per game in the postseason. The sheer volume of rubber they throw on net has been enough to overpower some of the best goalies in the game en route to the finals.
The Sharks have more of a precision attack, setting up down low in the offensive zone then looking to get the puck to the slot or back to the booming shot of defenseman Brent Burns. Their great puck movement makes them particularly deadly with the man advantage, scoring on 27-percent of their power plays this postseason.
While these teams are known for their offensive prowess, they have been stellar in their own end as well, helping a pair of goalies who both made their first playoff start this year. San Jose’s Martin Jones (2.12 GAA, .919 save percentage) and Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (2.22 GAA, .924 save percentage) have both been solid this spring, but now they’ll be asked to step up on the game’s biggest stage and shut down some of the NHL’s best scorers: Sidney Crosby, Joe Pavelski, Evgeni Malkin, Logan Couture. It’s clear why the over/under (5.5) is higher than usual.
As for Game 1, I like the Penguins. With a few players who have been in this spot before, the moment won’t be too big. I also don’t know that the Sharks’ D will be able to contain all of the Pens’ speed. Jones hasn’t faced over 30 shots in a game since May 9, and against Pittsburgh’s barrage, I think he’ll allow one or two stinkers.
Pick: Penguins (-150).
(Photo Credit: mark6mauno (Originally uploaded to Flickr. Photo has been cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/])
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