What a ride, eh? After 6 weeks of playoff hockey, the Stanley Cup Finals begin tonight as the Pittsburgh "you're even hated in your home-state" Penguins host the San Jose "how do you even make ice" Sharks for Game 1. This will be San Jose's first ever trip to the Cup Finals, and Pittsburgh's first visit since that 2009 atrocity (shut-up, I'm not crying, YOU'RE crying). For anyone who's been following along with these teams, it feels like we're about to see some really entertaining hockey.
HOW WE GOT HERE
San Jose entered the post-season as the 3-seed out of the Pacific Division, meeting the LA Kings in the first round and promptly disposing of them in 5 games. They would then meet the Nashville Predators in Round 2, eliminating the Music City Kitties in 7 games, and the St. Louis Blues in Round 3, who ran out of gas in 6 games. While the Preds gave them trouble, San Jose has looked like they're on fire vs the Kings and Blues. If they can sweep the Penguins, not only will they bring Lord Stanley's Cup home for the first time, but they'll also "complete the cycle" to have 4, 5, 6, and 7-game victories in the playoffs this year. Which could be kinda cool, in a totally lame and trivial way.
Pittsburgh arrived at the playoffs as the 2-seed from the Metropolitan Division, meeting the New York Rangers in the first round of play. After beating the Broadway Blue-Shirts in 5 games, the Penguins would take care of the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals in 6 games and the Tampa Bay Lightning in 7. The Pens have seen tougher and tougher match-ups as they've advanced, but have continued to see bigger and bigger responses from their players - most notably, from reported hot-dog enthusiast Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh will also have the chance to "complete the cycle" if they can sweep San Jose, but I honestly don't see either of these teams pulling that off.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs San Jose Sharks (Game 1), 8:00PM EDT - NBC
The end begins tonight. A deep Pens squad looks to keep pushing against a Sharks team that has looked red-hot for the past two weeks. Both teams are benefitting from some excellent young goaltenders, but San Jose's powerplay has looked downright deadly while Pittsburgh's has been effective if unspectacular. During the regular season, these teams split their two meetings with the road team winning each time. Calling a favorite based on play right now feels like flipping a coin.
Why You Care Enough To Watch: Tonight sets the barometer for how we can expect the rest of the series to go. Yes, adjustments will be made and line-ups shifted and tinkered with, but this gives us the idea for who will take home the silver for the summer. There's also an excitement behind someone winning the Stanley Cup for the first time. For San Jose, bringing the greatest trophy in sports home for the first time would be incredible. For Pittsburgh, Phil Kessel should relish the chance to rub a Stanley Cup Champion ring in the face of the Toronto media. Whether you're on Team Teal or rooting for the Happy Hot-Dog, take some time out of your Memorial Day to tune in and get a grip on this series.