Pens-Sharks Cup Final Lacks Mystery But Not Intrigue

Game 1 turned out to be as revealing, potentially, as it was riveting, for the Sharks as for the Pens.

It was 2-0 until it was 2-2 until it was 3-2, just in the Nick of time.

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final.

Things progressed for the Penguins on hockey’s ultimate stage against San Jose the way they had for the most part against New York, Washington and Tampa Bay. There were some anxious moments taking place, there was some adversity to stare in the face. But in the end the Pens got monster contributions from players not named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on Monday night, the last of which was center Nick Bonino’s eventual game-winning goal with 2:33 left in regulation.

Yet Game 1 turned out to be as revealing, potentially, as it was riveting, for the Sharks as for the Pens.

And that should make for a fascinating progression as the series continues on Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center and then resumes on Saturday and Monday in San Jose.

The Sharks, after a woefully slow start, eventually showed up as advertised and almost stole Game 1.

And the Pens did a lot of what they wanted to do, a lot of what Mike Sullivan has been preaching all along, and in the end they did just enough.

They’re both trying to play a simple game.

This series looks to be about who can execute their version of such better than the other.

For the Pens, Job One is to avoid the Sharks’ much-publicized forecheck.

The Pens need to exit the defensive zone as quickly and in as low-risk a manner as possible, and then go from there. If it takes a wrap-around clear to no one or a chip off the glass or boards and out of harm’s way, that’s a game the Penguins have to be willing to play.

“Moving pucks past their guys coming in, making that one little play that guys can skate into with pace and speed,” winger Chris Kunitz maintained.

It’s about passes to space rather than tape-to-tape, get the puck behind the other guys and then go get it again.

That worked well enough in Game 1 that on three occasions the Pens were able to advance the puck from below their goal line safely out of the defensive zone and then recalibrate the attack once they were out of danger well enough to wind up changing the scoreboard.

No reason they shouldn’t be trying to repeat that as necessary.

For the Sharks, the primary goal was to get the puck from deep in the Penguins’ end back to the blueline, where one of their talented defensemen, Brent Burns in particular, would figure out a way to get it on the net while everyone else was crashing the net.

“They extremely good at getting those pucks back, creating shots, lanes to the net and then getting pucks back to the net,” Pens defenseman Ian Cole explained. “As soon as you play a guy in the corner and he moves the puck low-to-high, he’s trying to get to the net. It’s a pretty simple formula but it’s been really successful for them.

“We need to box out early and prevent guys from getting to the net. It’s all about positioning and taking away space.”

The Sharks inflicted their will well enough to score a couple of goals and threaten to score several more from in close.

They won’t be out to do anything different in Game 2 as much as they will be determined to do what they did well in Game 1 a little more often.

It appears, 60 minutes in, as if Crosby’s pre-series assessment was prophetic: “Whoever gets to their game most often and the best is going to win.”

Everybody, it seems, knows what’s coming.

The team that can best do something about it will have the advantage, and eventually the Cup.

At least until someone adjusts.

“You can scout the other team as much as you want but at the end of the day that’s never set in stone,” Penguins goaltender Matt Murray offered.

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Final.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section