San Jose and Pittsburgh will get things started on Monday night but here are some critical matchups that will help determine the Stanley Cup.
San Jose is coming off a six-game dispatching of the St. Louis Blues, while Pittsburgh was able to knock out the defending Eastern Conference champions in seven games.
It should make for a fascinating Cup Final and here are some of the key matchups to watch as things get underway on Monday night at Consol Energy Center:
Joe Thornton’s Line vs. Sidney Crosby’s Line
One of the main reasons the Sharks are moving on was the play of their top line. The trio of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl combined for seven goals, 14 assists and a plus-12 rating as the Blues had no answer for these three.
There’s a reason team teal leads this postseason with 3.50 goals per game as the Sharks rely on their top line to set the tone for them.
In this series, they will likely see plenty of Sidney Crosby who has had an up-and-down playoffs for the Penguins. Crosby is still one of the best playmakers in the world, but he is also adept in the defensive end. He’s tied for second on the Penguins with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and the matchup with Thornton will be must-see TV in these finals.
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Brent Burns vs. Kris Letang
Burns is the difference maker for team teal on defense and helps generate plenty of scoring chances for his side. His one-timer is one of the best in the league, while he’s equally proficient in getting his shots through for a tip-in opportunity.
He leads the Sharks at 25:05 of ice time per game and is third on the squad with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in these playoffs, the most ever by a San Jose defenseman in one postseason campaign.
Burns can be a wild card for team teal and they will need him to continue his stellar play at both ends of the ice.
Letang is the offensive dynamo from the back end for the Penguins, and he will be leaned on heavily in the Stanley Cup finals. With Trevor Daley out with a leg injury, Letang has been forced to shoulder the load for this Pittsburgh blue line.
Letang leads all skaters heading into the finals at just under 29 minutes of ice time per game and it wouldn’t be shocking to see that number exceed 30 minutes in this series. The Sharks want to make Letang, who’s also chipped in 10 points, work in all areas of the ice to wear him down as the series progresses.
Martin Jones vs. Matt Murray
Now who would’ve thought that the two remaining goaltenders would be Jones and Murray, but here we are as both youngsters have had stellar playoff runs.
The 26-year-old netminder has been great for San Jose since assuming the number one role and has rewarded the faith of Doug Wilson. In these playoffs, Jones has posted a 2.12 GAA and a .919 save percentage to go along with three shutouts, including becoming the first goalie to post consecutive shutouts in franchise history.
Jones has done some of his best work following tough performances, which is part of what makes these Sharks such a great bounce back team.
On the other side, the 22-year-old rookie in Murray has given the Penguins a boost as Marc-Andre Fluery was injured heading into the playoffs. Murray has been a great find for Pittsburgh with an 11-4 record with a 2.22 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Murray was pulled in favor of Fluery in Game 5, but Mike Sullivan went back to Murray for Games 6 and 7 against Tampa Bay. San Jose will look to make life difficult on Murray by making him work harder than he did against the Lightning.