A few weeks into the 2015-16 NHL season, few would’ve expected the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins to be battling for the Stanley Cup. After all, San Jose started the season just 14-14-1 while Pittsburgh was 15-10-3 and learning from a new coach.
Both teams have been hot ever since, which has culminated in them meeting each other in the 2016 NHL Finals.
Neither team’s road here was easy, though, with the Penguins needing seven games to dispatch the Tampa Bay Lightening, and San Jose beating the St. Louis Blues in six contests. So chances are that we can expect another hard-fought series when these two teams face off.
Who will emerge with the Stanley Cup? And who should you bet on during these games? Let’s discuss these matters below.
GTBets.eu line for Game 1 (May 30 at 8:00pm EST)
San Jose (130)
Why the Penguins will Win the Series
This series could very well come down to one defining characteristic by Pittsburgh: speed. Management and first-year coach Mike Sullivan have built the Penguins into a speedy team that can get up the ice quicker than opponents can check them. The Sharks are also fast, but not to the degree of Pittsburgh.
What’s bad for opponents is that this team can just keep throwing talent at you. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are just the beginning of a deep squad that can score at will. When coupled with the aforementioned team speed, this is a lethal combination. And while San Jose defensemen Justin Braun and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic have been excellent at shutting down opponents, they could have their hands full against Pittsburgh.
Another factor to keep in mind is that the Blues didn’t have a center to match the skills of Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, making it easy for Braun and Vlasic to look fantastic. Pittsburgh has Crosby and Malkin, who both have the ability to outplay Thornton and Pavelski.
One more edge that the Penguins have is their third line, which seems far better than San Jose’s. If Pittsburgh can take advantage of this, unlike St. Louis, this could be the biggest deciding factor.
Why the Sharks will Win the Series
It all begins with the Sharks top line, which was dominant against a top-notch defensive team in St. Louis. Thornton, Pavelski and Thomas Hertl all came through against one of the toughest defenses in the league. Pavelski has especially played well in the playoffs, leading the postseason with 13 goals so far.
The offensive dominance of San Jose is easily apparent on the power play, as they’re converting 27% of their power plays so far. Thornton has led this devastating attack by delivering clean passes to either Pavelski or defenseman Brent Burns.
Another factor working in San Jose’s favor is that the Pittsburgh lost defenseman Trevor Daley for the remainder of the postseason. Daley broke his ankle in Game 4 against the Lightening, but the Penguins were still able to get by without their star blue-liner. However, they only had to survive three and a half games without Daley in the Tampa Bay series; can they do the same for a full series against San Jose?
The Sharks are hoping the answer is no, especially since they’ve averaged 3.5 goals against defensemen like Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Roman Josi, Shea Weber and Kevin Shattenkirk. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang is as good as any of these players, but the Penguins don’t have anybody else who can play near Letang or Daley’s level.
Prediction on Sharks vs Penguins
San Jose is a big, physical team that’s been able to win a lot of possession battles with previous opponents. They’ve also been really efficient on offense, as evidenced by averaging 3.5 goals per game. Plus, they should take advantage of Pittsburgh losing Daley for the series. But Pittsburgh might be the league’s fastest team, and they’ll use this edge to push past San Jose’s physical defense. Overall, they’re just a deeper team that should wear down the Sharks in a close seven-game series.
Series Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series 4 -3
Betting Advice: While we think the Penguins will win, San Jose is great at making adjustments for the next game. This will keep the series close and give you value on the Sharks when the line looks like it does for Game 1.