Penguins-Sharks Series Preview
After a much-needed respite, Pittsburgh and San Jose return to the ice Monday in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. Which side will own the upper hand when the action begins?
Oddsmakers favor the organization with at least a modicum of experience in such a setting. Online sports book Bovada.lv currently gives the Penguins odds of -140 to claim their fourth title. The Sharks, conversely, enter as +120 underdogs.
Mike Sullivan’s Pens hold home-ice advantage on the basis of placing second in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division during the regular season. San Jose only finished third in the Pacific Division, but the playoffs have showcased an entirely different-looking group from the West Coast. These two teams last met on Dec. 1, with Evgeni Malkin’s three-point evening powering a 3-1 Pittsburgh victory.
Of course, Sullivan didn’t even patrol the bench at that time. It was only when he replaced Mike Johnston shortly before Christmas that Sidney Crosby and company truly took flight. Following a 12-4-0 March, the Penguins dispatched the Rangers, Capitals and Lightning to claim the East for the first time since 2009.
The Sharks ran through a similar gauntlet on the other side of the bracket, outlasting archrival Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis. Captain Joe Pavelski’s 13 goals lead all skaters, and four of those came against the Blues. Meanwhile, Logan Couture paces the pick with 22 points.
Where San Jose probably boasts more punch on the blue line (Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns alone has 14 assists in 18 contests, the Pens’ second- and third-line forwards arguably possess greater scoring touch and general playmaking ability. With the respective goaltending situations also looking all but even, this shapes up as a lengthy, fascinating series. Ultimately, however, we just can’t recommend a club making its inaugural trip to hockey’s most hallowed stage.
STANLEY CUP FINAL FREE PICK: PENGUINS -140