Cup final will be played at warp speed

Pen­guins, Sharks could be two fastest teams in league

SundayXtra - - NHLPLAYOFFREPORTNHLREPORT - By Stephen Whyno

IT will be speed vs. speed in the Stan­ley Cup final be­tween the San Jose Sharks and Pitts­burgh Pen­guins.

San Jose got through the Western Con­fer­ence the same way Pitts­burgh got through the East: with plenty of depth and speed to kill. The final will fea­ture the three top play­off scor­ers in the Sharks’ Lo­gan Cou­ture, Joe Pavel­ski and Brent Burns against Pen­guins stars Sid­ney Crosby and Ev­geni Malkin.

“It’s go­ing to be fast hockey,” Crosby said af­ter the Pen­guins beat the Tampa Bay Light­ning in Game 7 of the East final Thurs­day night. “Two teams that want to play the ex­act same way, that want to get their D in­volved (and) their power play is re­ally dan­ger­ous... It’s go­ing to be quite the se­ries.”

The Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time in their 24-sea­son fran­chise his­tory and in Peter DeBoer’s first year as coach. The Pen­guins are back for the first time since win­ning it all in 2009 and made it af­ter Mike Sul­li­van re­placed Mike John­ston as coach in De­cem­ber.

In his first meet­ing with them, Sul­li­van chal­lenged his play­ers to be great and told them that’s how they win in the NHL. They’ve won in the play­offs on the strength of scor­ing from Crosby and speedy wingers Phil Kes­sel, Carl Hagelin and Game 7 hero Bryan Rust, not to men­tion the goal­tend­ing of 22-year- old rookie Matt Mur­ray.

Kes­sel is Pitts­burgh’s lead­ing scorer with 18 points on nine goals and nine as­sists af­ter com­ing over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last sum­mer.

“I don’t think you could dream about that. You never could ex­pect this,” Kes­sel said. “This is a huge mo­ment in my ca­reer and my life.”

San Jose is also rolling along thanks to a sum­mer pickup in goal­tender Martin Jones, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ backup when they won the Cup in 2014. Cou­ture, Pavel­ski and Burns are pil­ing up the points, but this run is about ag­ing vet­er­ans Joe Thorn­ton and Pa­trick Mar­leau fi­nally break­ing through.

Thorn­ton and Mar­leau, the top two picks in the 1997 draft, made the play­offs to­gether with the Sharks in nine of 10 pre­vi­ous sea­sons but had yet to make the Cup final un­til now.

Crosby and Malkin made it twice, los­ing in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings be­fore win­ning the fol­low­ing sea­son. At the time, it looked like the young core that also fea­tured de­fence­man Kris Le­tang would chal­lenge for the Cup ev­ery year.

Now they have a chance to add to their legacy, but it won’t be easy even with home-ice ad­van­tage in the se­ries that starts Mon­day night in Pitts­burgh. The Sharks are the Pen­guins’ deep­est op­po­nent yet.

“The Pen­guins should ex­pect a team that’s deeper, quicker than Tampa, and a team that’s play­ing with a lot of con­fi­dence,” NBC Sports an­a­lyst Ed Ol­czyk said.

Con­fi­dence isn’t lack­ing for ei­ther team. The Sharks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Preda­tors and St. Louis Blues to get here, while the Pen­guins beat the New York Rangers, Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy-win­ning Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals and de­fend­ing East-cham­pion Light­ning.

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