With the Stanley Cup final underway, I predict the San Jose Sharks will defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Throughout the post-season, the Sharks best players consistently led the way. Centre Logan Couture, team captain Joe Pavelski and defenceman Brent Burns sat atop the playoff scoring leaders entering the final, with centre Joe Thornton tied for fifth.
Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are among the top-15 scorers, but they were inconsistent through three rounds. The “HBK line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel proved to be Pittsburgh's most reliable offensive line.
The Sharks defence pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun made life miserable for the top scorers of their post-season opponents. Los Angles Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli was kept off the score sheet, Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg held to one goal and St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko limited to just two goals.
While the Penguins largely unheralded blue-line played a significant role in their club's march to the final, they lack a shutdown duo comparable to Vlasic and Braun.
Kris Letang (10 points) is the linchpin of the Penguins defence. Letang's production, however, falls well short of shaggy, gap-toothed Sharks rearguard Brent Burns. Entering the final, Burns led all playoff blue-liners with 20 points.
Through three rounds, the Penguins had better penalty-killing stats (83.6 per cent) than the Sharks (80 per cent), but they haven't faced a power play like San Jose's. The Sharks success rate with the man advantage (27 per…