Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Stanley Cup preview: Long road ends for rebuilt Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH — It wasn't supposed to take the Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Penguins back to a destination many figured they would become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009. Not that either side is complaining. Not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage ends tonight when the puck drops for Game 1. And not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating the Red Wings seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often has failed to translate into regular mid-June parades through the heart of the city.

Story lines

San Jose has one of its deepest teams ever with four lines capable of producing and two top defensive pairs in front of first-year starting goalie Martin Jones. But it is still led by its stars, with the top line of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl dominating through the playoffs. Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun have been a shut-down defensive pair this postseason. Defenseman Brent Burns helps lead a power-play unit that has 17 goals this postseason. The Penguins are back in the final due in large part to general manager Jim Rutherford's roster overhaul that rebuilt the team around star forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. Pittsburgh's rise through the Eastern Conference coincided with the hiring of coach Mike Sullivan in mid December after Mike Johnston was fired and Crosby's re-emergence as one of the league's most dangerous players. Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin — dubbed the "HBK" line — have given the Penguins the kind of depth they lacked in years past, combining for 17 goals and 28 assists through the first three rounds of the postseason. Kessel's nine postseason goals lead the team.

Sharks' key player

Joe Thornton. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 1997 has been one of the NHL's top players for the better part of two decades. But postseason success had eluded him until this season. The center is playing the best two-way hockey of his career, adding strong defensive play to his elite passing skills. With Thornton on the ice, the Sharks have controlled possession in the postseason, which has been a major reason for their success.

Pittsburgh's key player

Matt Murray. The 22-year-old was supposed to be the Penguins' goalie of the future. His tenure started earlier than expected when Marc-Andre Fleury suffered his second concussion of the season March 31. Murray is 11-4 in his first NHL postseason.

Powerful Sharks

San Jose's run has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting at 27 percent (17-of-63). The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage in the playoffs, 3-4 when they don't.

A country for old men

Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals in the playoffs. Sharks forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft. San Jose center Dainius Zubrus, 37, draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux. "When I say, 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux,' they say, 'I was 2 years old,' " Zubrus said.

Stanley Cup preview: Long road ends for rebuilt Sharks and Penguins 05/29/16 [Last modified: Monday, May 30, 2016 10:28am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. U.S. repeats as Solheim Cup champion

    Golf

    WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Lexi Thompson set the tone by rallying from four holes down. The rest of the Americans took it from there and restored their dominance in the Solheim Cup

    Lexi Thompson, left, comes back from four holes down to halve the day’s first singles match with Europe’s Anna Nordqvist to set the tone for the United States.
  2. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  3. Bucs journal: Demar Dotson (mild groin strain) expected back for opener

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs got good news Sunday on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI exam showed only a mild right groin sprain and who should be back at practice next week.

    Tackle Demar Dotson has only a mild groin strain.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Rays journal: Jake Faria heads to DL with left abdominal strain

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jacob Faria made the trek he didn't want to take after his last start. It was to the trainer's room. The pain in his left abdominal went from nagging to an issue during his start that night in Toronto.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jacob Faria (34) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 4, 2017.