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Going into this series it’s important not to focus too far into the past. This will be the first time in the Sharks 25 year history to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that is because the team that has been assembled this past season is a significantly stronger and more confident one than they have had in the past. The Penguins struggled at the beginning of the regular season, but 28 games in Mike Sullivan took over coaching duties and worked to amplify the team’s assets and push a fast pace breathing new life into the Pittsburgh team.

Penguins: Pittsburgh was 15-10-3 when general manager Jim Rutherford decided to replace Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan as coach, and it was the game changer the Penguins needed. Under Johnston the greatest assets of the team were stifled, but with the entrance of Sullivan Pittsburgh was given the freedom to use all the weapons in their arsenal to play a faster more productive game. He has added a calmness on the bench and brought the team together. He pushes the players to embrace their individual skills while playing as a team and pushed a more aggressive and faster pace.

The Penguins have a stacked offensive unit. Crosby scored 36 goals and had 85 points during the regular season, and he and Malkin each have 15 points in the playoffs. Malkin went six games earlier this postseason without a point, but with a five-game point streak (one goal and five assists) he seems to be hitting his stride. It is often forgotten that Crosby and Malkin are not the only offensive weapons that Pittsburgh has in their arsenal.

There was talk that Phil Kessel is the most overrated player in the league, but his play has certainly disputed that as the team has greatly benefited from his acquisition from the Toronto Maple Leafs last summer. Kessel has shown his worth leading Pittsburgh this postseason in scoring with 18 points (nine goals and nine assists) in as many games. The line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel has been dynamite for the Penguins. Bonino has 12 assists in 18 games, and Hagelin has five goals and seven assists, and is one of the fastest skaters in the league.

Conor Sheary has two goals in 17 games, and Patrick Hornqvist has seven goals and four assists. The two have shared much of their time on the ice on a line with Sidney Crosby.

This is Bryan Rust’s first playoffs, but he isn’t showing it as he is playing with the confidence of a more experienced player. He scored each of Pittsburgh’s goals in a 2-1 win in Game 7 against the Lightning. We will likely see Rust alongside Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz. Kunitz has racked up 10 points in 18 games.

Veterans Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr reside on the Penguins fourth line with rookie Tom Kuhnhackl. Cullen has scored is crucial moments and is solid on both ends of the ice.

The Penguins defense has been the thorn in this lion’s paw. Opponents have recognized its weakness battering on its strongest player, Kris Letang, in efforts to neutralize him and leaving the rest of the defensive unit to self-destruct.

Letang is one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL. He is averaging 28:46 of ice time in the playoffs, and has two goals and eight assists in 17 games. But he only had two points in the Eastern Conference Final. It will be crucial that he step up his game in the Final. Brian Dumoulin is Letang’s primary defensive partner. He plays more than 20 minutes per game and is a solid defensive player and a strong skater.

Olli Maatta has he played 19:34 and was plus-2 in Game 7 against Tampa Bay, but has been inconsistent. Maatta will more than likely be paired with Ben Lovejoy who has played more than 20 minutes in each of the past three games.

Justin Schultz played 12:50 in Game 7 against Tampa Bay, and Ian Cole played less than 11 minutes. If the pair gets enough ice time Schultz will have the opportunity to provide the team with extra offense.

Trevor Daley is currently out with a lower-body injury, but could provide a boon to the defensive unit when he returns.

During the regular season the Penguins power play was nothing to brag about, but in the playoffs their power play is converting at 23.4 percent while their penalty kill has a success rate of 83.6 percent in the playoffs, fifth in the NHL.

Matt Murray is 11-4 in the playoffs with a 2.21 GAA and .924 save percentage, and if the Penguins win the Cup he is most likely to be awarded the Conn Smyth Trophy. Murray is a rookie, but Sullivan has faith in him from his time with him at Wilkes-Barr/Scranton. Coaches and teammates alike have commented on the 22 year old’s maturity and calmness throughout the playoffs as being that of a more experience goaltender.

If Murray has difficulties in the Final the Penguins will have the more than able and experienced Marc-Andre Fleury to take over in goal.

Sharks: Patrick Marleau has played 1,411 regular-season games with the Sharks and another 165 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Marleau has 12 points in the playoffs, but has gone six straight games without a goal, and it will be crucial that he find the back of the net in this series. Joe Thornton arrived in 2005 in a trade with the Boston Bruins. Thornton is second in the NHL in assists this postseason with 15. The two veteran forwards will be leaned on heavily for their experience throughout this series.

First year captain, Joe Pavelski, has 13 goals in 18 games this postseason, including four game-winners. He is one of the primary reasons this team has come this far in big part to his leadership on and off the ice. Tomas Hertl has five goals and five assists this postseason, and adds extra size the line with Thornton and Pavelski.

Center Logan Couture is first in the NHL in assists this postseason with 16. He is a creative player and can produce anywhere in the offensive zone, and he contributes greatly on the power play.

San Jose’s second line is made up of Marleau, Couture and Joonas Donskoi, and is a force to be reckoned with. Donskoi had 11 goals in 76 regular-season games, has five goals in the playoffs.

Joel Ward has 11 points in 18 playoff games. He has a familiarity with the Penguins from his days facing them on the Capitals. Centering Ward’s line is Chris Tierney, who had seven goals in 79 regular-season games and has five in the playoffs. On the left wing of this line is Melker Karlsson who plays well at both ends of the ice.

Dainius Zubrus hasn’t produced as much offense as he has in the past, but has contributed on the fourth line alongside Nick Spaling and Tommy Wingels, who leads the Sharks with 58 hits this postseason.

Sharks defenseman Brent Burns is a Norris Trophy contender. Burns had 75 points (27 goals and 48 assists) in the regular season. In post season he is San Jose’s third leading scorer with 20 points (six goals and 14 assists) and is averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time. Burns has great chemistry with his defensive partner, Paul Martin, who is very familiar with Pittsburgh’s team as he played five seasons on the team.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been phenomenal this postseason. Vlasic has the ability to shut down scoring from the top offensive players in the league. He is paired with Justin Braun, who was plus-3 in Game 5 against St. Louis, and played 22:23.

Roman Polak and Brenden Dillon make up the Sharks’ third pair. They add grit and roughness that will plague the Penguins throughout the series.

San Jose’s power play was third in the League at 22.5 percent in the regular season, and now is ranked second in the postseason at 27.0 percent. Their penalty kill has a success rate of 80.4 percent this postseason, seventh in the NHL.

Martin Jones won 37 games during the regular season and going 12-6 with a 2.12 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in the playoffs. The team trusts him in the net, and he often sets the tone for the team. Jones will be backed up by James Reimer, who has played 29 minutes in the postseason, all during a 6-3 loss to St. Louis in Game 4 of the conference final.

Prediction: Penguins in 7