By Tomi Rantanen
Unlikely finalists: Penguins vs Sharks
Sharks and Penguins face-off in the Stanley Cup finals starting tonight at Pittsburgh’s Console Energy Center. For the Sharks it’s the first visit to the finals in their 25-year history, while the Penguins have won the Stanley Cup in 1991, 1992 and 2009. They were also in the losing end on 2008. The Penguins are slight favorites to win it again this year.
Accuscore's projection for Conference Finals was 100% correct, as the simulations predicted Penguins to advance in 7 games and Sharks in 6. Including the Conference Semi Finals, Accuscore picked 5/6 correct teams to advance.
The Penguins core players were already there during the last cup run as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are still in command. This time around Penguins have managed garner enough support from the bottom-six to oust their opponents. All four lines have contributed offensively, while Crosby concentrates on game winning goals. Especially Phil Kessel has taken a step up, scoring nine goals from the third line. Depth in offense is something the Penguins have lacked in the past.
Penguins’ Achilles heel is deemed to be the defense, which lacks quality on top-4 and is only decent after Kris Letang’s 30+ minutes. So far they’ve been brilliant and possibly overachieving a bit, but injury to Trevor Daley hurts their puck movement remarkably. The likes of Olli Määttä, Brian Dumoulin and Ben Lovejoy have stepped up their game, but defense is still the weak point for the Penguins.
Rookie goalkeeper Matt Murray has been a revelation after stepping in to cover for injured Marc-Andre Fleury and has given the Penguins a fighting chance in each game. Sharks will be the toughest test so far and the only one that really matters in the end.
See Tonight’s NHL Picks: AccuScore’s NHL Picks and Odds
The Sharks finally made it all the way to the final in the rough Western Conference. Experienced leading forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are looking to cap their fantastic careers by winning the Stanley Cup – but this time they don’t have to try and carry the team all by themselves.
Joe Pavelski, who was earlier given the team captaincy after Joe Thornton, has already banged 13 goals at Thornton’s wing and tireless Logan Couture, who is also league leader in points, centers the second line. As is the case with Penguins, also Sharks boast an excellent bottom-six, who are not only able to shut down the opponents but also to score goals.
In defense, Brent Burns patrols the blue line with swagger. While his stint as forward is history, the scoring ability remains; Burns is third in NHL in points, with more than a point per game. Canadian World Cup defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic adds high-class two-way play in the mix, while the rest of the D can sit back and protect the net. Sharks’ number one goalkeeper Martin Jones has proven to be a winner, regardless of an easy goal or two conceded on the way.
According to Accuscore’s simulations, all the games played in the final series are extremely close fought battles. Penguins is marginally better in their home games, which makes the home advantage quite crucial for the series. In the simulations Penguins win their home games with approximately 55% probability, while Sharks take their home games with 53% likelihood. Both teams boast top of the line scoring units, which indicates more than average scoring. Neither of the defenses are a match to their opposing offenses, nor are the goaltenders statistically top notch. That is not to say either team would go down because of their goaltending, but to indicate that they’re facing their biggest challenge yet.
San Jose outplays Penguins on the power play, but Penguins rule the shots on goal department with wide margin. As is expected in the Stanley Cup finals, all the differences are marginal. In the simulation Penguins win the Cup, but only after a gruesome battle in game seven at Console Energy Center.
Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh Penguins – San Jose Sharks
Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Stanley Cup with 53.65% probability. The most likely result of the series is 4-3 (17.21%)