2016 Stanley Cup Finals Preview

It's been seven long years since we've seen Sidney Crosby battle for the Stanley Cup, but he's finally made it back to the biggest stage in the NHL. Unfortunately for him, he's running right into a San Jose Sharks team that is peaking after years of misfortune in the playoffs. Which team is the better take in Best of 7?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have crafted a meaningful identity around speed, something that Mike Sullivan has emphasized in his first year at the helm. The way that they eviscerated an equally skilled Tampa Bay team in the Eastern Conference Finals was evidence of that. Pittsburgh nearly doubled the amount of shots taken compared to their conference finals counterparts.

A big reason for that is the lineup. The Phil Kessel acquisition last summer has paid off massive dividends, and given the Penguins a second line that's nearly unbeatable. The defensive pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun is the go-to option for the Sharks on the blue line, but keeping them out against both of Pittsburgh's top lines seems implausible.

The flip side for Pittsburgh is that they don't have the same defensive prowess that the Sharks have, especially with Trevor Daley sidelined for the Stanley Cup Finals with a broken ankle. They suffocated Tampa Bay's offence, but doing that against San Jose's top line won't be as easy. Goalie Matt Murray is sure to face many more shots than he did against a Lightning team that was without Stamkos for the majority of the series.

San Jose Sharks vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Game 1 - Monday, May 30th --- 8pm EST
Game 2 - Wednesday, June 1st --- 8pm EST
Game 3 - Saturday, June 4th --- 8pm EST
Game 4 - Monday, June 6th --- 8pm EST
Game 5 - Thursday, June 9th --- 8pm EST
Game 6 - Sunday, June 12th --- 8pm EST
Game 7 - Wednesday, June 15th --- 8pm EST

And slowing down San Jose's top line of Thonton-Pavelski-Hertl is downright impossible given that they just bullied their way through the hard-nosed St. Louis Blues. Pavelski is currently the Conn Smythe leader, and it's hard to argue against his case given that he has 13 goals.

Where San Jose really has an upper hand is on the power play; Thornton has been ripping teams apart with his deft passing skills. The Penguins rock one of the best penalty kills in the league, but San Jose's 27% power play success has been unmatched in this year's playoffs.

The star power for Pittsburgh will be the tantalizing feature here because it's hard to ignore a team that boasts talents like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. However, the fore-checking of the Sharks can go a long way in slowing opponents down. A lot of fairweather hockey fans will presume that the Crosby line is the one to bet on, but they'd be mistaken. It's the Thornton and Pavelski combination that's going to dominate this entire Stanley Cup Finals.

It's going to be an absolutely gutsy affair by both sides, but the intangibles lean more heavily in San Jose's corner. They have a better defence and comparable depth. Their top line grades out much stronger, and they're able to play that gritty style of hockey that usually ends up winning in big moments.

The Sharks have already blasted through Los Angeles, Nashville and St. Louis and have finally shaken the ghosts of past playoffs by getting over the hump. This is a much different Sharks team than we've seen before, and they will be your next Stanley Cup Champions.

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction - San Jose Sharks in 6 Games