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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

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Key Matchups-

Brent Burns and Shea Weber will be expected to light the lamp for their respective teams. Burns was number one among defensemen scoring 27 goals this season. He can move the puck in the offensive zone and is aggressive on the forecheck. He put 353 shots on net making him second in that aspect to Alex Ovechkin. Weber was fourth for goals and finished the season with 20 goals; his third time doing so. Burns is the superior offensive player while Weber has impressive shot suppression numbers, and has already been chosen to play for Team Canada’s World Cup squad.

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Coach Peter DeBoer prefers to roll four lines, keeping his forwards fresh. In Round 1 the top line dominated scoring seven of its 16 goals. All forwards averaged a minimum of 11 minutes of ice time per game except Tommy Wingels who is second among forwards with 11 shots on goal and averaged 9:49 per game. The Sharks’ Joes Pavelski and Joe Thornton made an impressive showing in the first round. Pavelski scored five goals in five games, with two coming on the power play and one standing as a game winner. Thornton had a goal and two assists, and was one of the most solid players on the ice. Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, and Patrick Marleau, were an offensive powerhouse trio against the Kings. Joel Ward had four assists and made his presence known alone the walls. Center Chris Tierney and left wing Matt Nieto also made contributions.

Brent Burns has been a force to be reckoned with the past two seasons, and it’s going to be a battle for the Predators’ defense to keep him at bay while trying to hold off Pavelski and Thornton. Burns lead the Sharks with eight points in the first round. Paul Martin was Burns’ partner in Round 1and his adept play allowed for Burns to thrive. Marc-Edouard Vlasic made his contribution averaging 23:12 of ice time per game and leading the Sharks with 18 blocked shots.

The Sharks are a team of playmakers who proved how important puck possession and seizing scoring opportunities is during their matchup with the Kings and the past season. For every 60 minutes played at 5-on-5, the Sharks generated about 13 chances from the slot and allowed less than 10 against per 60 minutes. Against the Kings the Sharks were able to average 13 chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in the first round.

The Sharks goaltending has something to be desired. Martin Jones isn’t the caliber of goalie you hope to see in the playoffs. His .912 save percentage was right in the middle of the pack for goaltenders in the first round. He’ll need to be better against the Predators for the team to win the series, and if he is the Sharks could be back in the Western Conference final for the first time since 2011.

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Nashville Predators-

The Predators are a defense dominant team with Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. In Round 1 Weber and Josi combined for two goals and eight points, playing nearly half of each game and played a crucial role in shutting down Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. In Round Two, they’ll be tasked with slowing down Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns. Josi averaged 27:16 of ice time and 33.6 shifts per game. His average shift length was 48 seconds. Fourth-line center Paul Gaustad brought a physical presence in the first round. Gaustad has been proven effective in the faceoff circle; he won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs against the Ducks and had a 54.1 winning percentage in the defensive zone. Nashville finished the regular season tied for the most points in the NHL by defensemen.

Nashville’s penalty kill faced the league’s best power play in Round One and only allowed four power play goals against in 25 attempts. That made for the sixth-best penalty kill in Round 1 against the Ducks. Nashville’s penalty kill is going to be utilized against San Jose who drew the fifth-most power plays in the regular season and had the league’s third-ranked power play. Nashville’s power play struggled in the first round, going 1-for-26.

Nashville offensive production is lacking compared to San Jose’s. The Sharks could win with forward depth if the Preds forwards can’t get the puck to the back of the net, but there is hope for the offense with Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal, but it’ll be crucial that they are better than they were in Round 1.

Pekka Rinne had issues in the first five games. In Game 7 Rinne played a solidly and saved the Predators by making 36 saves, allowing one goal, on a power play. Rinne finished the series with 2.45 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

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Read our analysis of the Predators and the Sharks Round 1 matchups to learn more about these teams.

WINNIPEG – The Jets were feeling the heat as they are in must-win mode almost every game as they are in a dog fight for those wild card spots in the West. They were looking to put some distance between themselves and tenth place San Jose as they welcomed the Sharks to town. The Jets sent their fans home happy with a 5-2 victory over the Sharks and now are six points up on them.

Ondrej Pavelec got his second consecutive start in goal; it was the first time since November that he has done that. He was sharp as he stopped 38 out of 40 Sharks shots and was named the game’s first star.

“We got some really good goaltending,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “He was just aggressive trying to find pucks. He was fighting.”

Antti Niemi was in net for San Jose and gave up three goals on eight shots before getting pulled at 13:01 of the first period. Alex Stalock came in and finished the game making 12 saves off 14 shots.

“The start was not what we needed in a building that just seems to build with energy,” San Jose coach Todd McLellan said.

Winnipeg got goals from Adam Lowry his 8th , Mark Scheifele his 12th , Andrew Ladd his 24th , Blake Wheeler got a pair his 21st and 22nd of the year.

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“[Scheifele and Stafford] are buzzing right now,” Wheeler said. “When [Scheifele] is skating like he is right now, he’s great to play with. [Stafford] is just so strong on the puck. He makes such smart, simple plays; I think he makes a good complement for the two of us.”

San Jose got a pair of goals off the stick of Joe Pavelski his 33rd and 34th of the season.

“Every game right now, if you don’t win it, it’s a setback, bottom line,” Pavelski said. “Nobody in here can hang their heads right now. We’ve got to get ready for the next game.”

The Jets got off to a fast start as they burst out to a 3-0 lead early in the first, but the Sharks took it to them the rest of the way and Pavelec shut the door and they held on for a big win. The power play was a big reason for the win as the Jets cashed in twice on three attempts .

Winnipeg used more of a physical game on the Sharks.

“We’re moving on,” McLellan said. “We’ve got to go to Toronto. By the time we [get on] the plane, we should be recharging our batteries and getting ready to play in Toronto.

“Now we get on the plane, we eat, we review the game, we have a good skate [Wednesday], we practice and away we go. There is nothing else we can do. We could sit in the corner and cry if we wanted to, but that’s not going to help us one bit.

“If something negative happens, we’ve got to park it and move on. We have no other options.”

The Jets got multi-point games from Ladd who had a two-point night , Wheeler and Sheifele had three-point nights, Drew Stafford also had a two-point game.

Wheeler showed his leadership qualities and how much he wants to win by blocking 2 shots with the inside of his leg with under two minutes to go and the score 5-2 . This is the kind of character that playoff teams want.

The team received some good news as Tyler Myers was back in the lineup after missing one game with an upper body injury. Dustin Byfuglien was a game time decision and did not dress but should be back this week.

“[Byfuglien] was ready to go, and he got through the morning skate,” Maurice said. “But sometimes you have to pull a guy back a little bit, and I just didn’t think it was the right time for him to come in.

“We want to be sure with [Byfuglien] that when he comes back in, he doesn’t go back out again.”

With the win, the Jets moved past LA and Calgary into 7th place in the West.

The Jets will welcome the St. Louis Blues to MTS Centre on Thursday night.

Follow me on Twitter @hrank94