I want speed and scoring in this Stanley Cup final. I expect it. In fact, I demand it. There’s more than enough firepower on both the Penguins and Sharks for us to see the kind of breakneck hockey that would be perfect at this time of year. Of course, we thought the same way last spring and Chicago’s four wins over Tampa Bay were a trio of 2-1 triumphs and a Blackhawks clincher that checked in at 2-0.
Don’t ever doubt NHL coaches’ ability to suffocate the sport. Hopefully, 2016 will be different.
That said, new Pittsburgh bench boss Mike Sullivan was brought in specifically to get the Penguins to open up their game. The result is a rejuvenated Sidney Crosby and a version of Phil Kessel that is Conn Smythe Trophy-caliber and not the trainwreck that was on display in Toronto. San Jose’s Pete DeBoer took New Jersey to the final in 2012 against Los Angeles but you’re not using the plodding Devils style on a roster that includes Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau.
Let’s see how successful San Jose defenseman Brent Burns or Pittsburgh counterpart Kris Letang are in imposing their will on the series. Let’s see if one of the big guns takes things over, or if a complimentary player gets the job done like Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust did in scoring both goals in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay.
The biggest question: Will either Matt Murray or Martin Jones crack in goal under the spotlight of the ultimate series and how willing would either team be to give them a hook? The Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury waiting in the wings while the Sharks have ex-Toronto netminder James Reimer. Neither, however, has gotten much time in the playoffs and the rust factor would be high.
These teams will hopefully do as much flying on the ice as they will do criss-crossing the country in what could be a two-week affair. How about the first seven-game series since Boston beat Vancouver in 2011? That’s the call here, with the Penguins winning in seven.