2015-16 Stanley Cup Final Preview

Jun 02, 2016 -- 9:54am
Hockey history may be on the side of the Pittsburgh Penguins in this year's Stanley Cup Final. The last time this team switched coaches midway through a season, they won a Stanley Cup. Could Mike Sullivan have the same fate as Dan Bylsma, who took over behind the Pens' bench in 2008-09? Sidney Crosby also elected to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy that same season. He repeated that controversial action last week in the hopes of the same outcome. 
Another piece of history that could or could not be on the Penguins' side is the Western Conference's dominance as of late. The Boston Bruins are the last Eastern Conference team to win the Cup; that was back in the 2011 season. Could this be the season that Lord Stanley's Cup finally makes its way back East?
History has yet to be on the side of the San Jose Sharks' organization. This is the team's first Stanley Cup appearance since they came into existence in the 1991-92 season. Center Joe Thornton is the current holder of the unfortunate title of, "best player to never win a Stanley Cup." After being nearly a point-per-game player throughout his 1,300-plus games career, The future hall of famer's production inexplicably drops off in the postseason; only 27 goals in 151 career playoff games. These playoffs have been a different story for Thornton so far with 18 points in 19 games. Can he continue that trend of changing the narrative by winning his first Cup in his 19th NHL campaign?
How Pittsburgh can win: Not many teams in league history have ever had the luxury of putting a player like Phil Kessel on their third line. So far this postseason, Kessel has excelled into a Conn Smythe candidate with 18 points in 19 games so far. Pittsburgh's offensive depth could put them over the top. After you deal with world-class talents like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you must shut down upstart playmakers like Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Bryan Rust. The Sharks' defense is very good, but can they completely shut out three scoring lines that the Penguins present?
X-Factor: With 11 points in 19 postseason contests, Patric Hornqvist has not been one the Pens' most dominant forwards. But, the 29 year-old winger has been a consistent offensive performer throughout his career; scoring at least 21 goals in each of the six seasons that he's played 64 games or more. Hornqvist's biggest asset comes in handy most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He constantly creates havoc in front of the opposing net. He attracts the attention of the defense and becomes the target of their frustration, which is quite impressive when one of his linemates is named Crosby.
How San Jose can win: The Sharks' impressive run through the Western Conference Playoffs will help them out tremendously against Pittsburgh. They exercised their demons by beating the L.A. Kings in round one. San Jose followed that up by downing a tough Predators team and a Blues squad that was more than capable of winning the Cup themselves. Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski have all been point-per-game players throughout this postseason. Veterans, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have waited nearly twenty years for their shot at a title. The Sharks have the offensive depth to go toe to toe with Pittsburgh, but, do they have enough left in the tank to beat Crosby and company or are we still awaiting an inevitable Sharks' postseason collapse?
X-Factor: Joel Ward proves time after time that he can score goals in the big moments. Ward helped spark a surprising postseason run for the Washington Capitals last year with a few timely tallies. So far this postseason, Ward has done the same. He has 6 goals and 11 points for a loaded offensive unit. And much like Hornqvist, Ward draws defenders' attention down low to help create space for better playmakers along the boards. 
Prediction: Penguins in 7. Think my prediction comes too late? Here's proof that I'm sticking with my original pick:
Prediction: Pens in 7 (from the guy who said the Ducks would win it all). #StanleyCupFinal
5/30/16 8:03pm

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