Sharks

Back-to-back Stanley Cup champions: Penguins beat Predators to repeat

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AP

Back-to-back Stanley Cup champions: Penguins beat Predators to repeat

BOX SCORE

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sidney Crosby is bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh for a second consecutive year.

Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 left and Matt Murray made 27 saves for his second straight shutout as the Penguins became the NHL's first team in nearly two decades to repeat as champions following a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in Game 6 on Sunday night.

The Penguins won their fifth title — all of which have been clinched on the road — to tie the Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-era Edmonton Oilers for sixth on the all-time list. The Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98 were the last champion to defend their title, but the Penguins are the first to do it in the salary cap era.

"We knew it was going to be tough all year, but we just tried to keep with it," said Crosby, who won his second Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. "We had a lot of injuries and things like that. We just kept finding ways. That was really what we did all season, all playoffs. It's great to be able to do it."

Hornqvist scored off Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne's left elbow to end the scoreless game. Nashville challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld. With Rinne pulled for an extra attacker, Carl Hagelin set off a bench celebration with an empty netter with 13.6 seconds left.

Nashville lost for just the first time in regulation on home ice this postseason.

Colton Sissons had a goal erased by a whistle 67 seconds into the second period. The Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third.

Forget a golden anniversary: The Penguins will cap their 50th season with their names on the most famous silver cup in sports — again. It is also the third championship for Crosby and a handful of teammates from the 2009 title team, surpassing the two won by the Penguins teams led by current owner Mario Lemieux in the 1990s.

And it's the second championship in 18 months for coach Mike Sullivan, who has yet to lose a playoff series since taking over after Mike Johnston was fired. Sullivan is the first American-born coach to win the Cup not once, but twice.

Matt Murray became the first goalie to win not one, but two Stanley Cups as a rookie after being a late-season call up a year ago and didn't play enough games to get that tag removed. That's something neither Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Cam Ward ever managed, but the 23-year-old Murray finished this Cup Final shutting out Nashville for the final 126:52.

The loss ended the upstart Predators' deepest playoff run in the franchise's 19-year history and one that became the talk of the town far beyond Music City, catfish and all.

Having won just three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville opened this postseason by eliminating the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in four games. In doing so, the Predators became the first eighth-seeded team to sweep a first-round series since the current playoff format was introduced in 1994. Nashville went through St. Louis and then Anaheim, with only captain Mike Fisher carrying any Cup Final experience on the roster.

The stingy Predators found Pittsburgh was up to the task, with the Penguins taking the first two games on home ice. Nashville roared back at home to even things up, but the Penguins routed Nashville to set up Game 6.

The Penguins ruined Nashville's big party where the game coincided with the final night of CMA Music Festival, bringing more than 100,000 to downtown Nashville. Country star Luke Bryan serenaded fans from the rooftop of a honky-tonk in a performance that kicked off the television broadcast, and he also sang a four-song set for fans inside and outside the arena an hour before face-off.

Faith Hill became the latest to sing the national anthem with husband, star Tim McGraw, giving her a hug once finished before waving a towel in each hand. At least five catfish hit the ice before the face-off.

Then in a series that hadn't featured even a single one-goal game was scoreless through the first 40 minutes. The Predators thought they had the first goal of the game, just like they did in Game 1 in Pittsburgh for being offsides, only to have referee Kevin Pollock wave it off immediately. He had whistled the play dead when he lost sight of the puck with Murray on the ice between him and the puck.

Sissons tapped the puck into the net 67 seconds into the second period behind Murray's back. Officials huddled, but the goal was not allowed.

Murray also stopped Sissons on a breakaway midway through the second and also gloved a shot from Viktor Arvidsson later in the period.

The Penguins also killed off 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 at 8:47 of the third after Trevor Daley punched Ryan Ellis with Olli Maatta already in the box for tripping. Murray made a big stop on a shot by Mattias Ekholm followed by a save on Arvidsson.

This championship season for the Penguins lacked some of the drama from a year ago, but it was far from a slam dunk. Washington won the President's Trophy for a second straight season and pushed Pittsburgh to seven games in the second round. Ottawa did the same thing, forcing the Penguins to double overtime to clinch the Eastern Conference title.

Crosby, Malkin and others also played in the World Cup of Hockey before the season, making this an even longer year than usual. In the end, the Penguins had more than enough in the tank to bring home another title.

Notes: Nashville finished the series going 0 of 8 on the power play over the final two games. ... Grammy winners Cage the Elephant performed during the second intermission after playing at Bonnaroo on Friday night.

Full schedule for Sharks-Golden Knights series released

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AP

Full schedule for Sharks-Golden Knights series released

We already knew the details for Game 1 of the season round series between the Sharks and Golden Knights. That will take place Thursday night at 7pm in Las Vegas.

On Wednesday night, with the Bruins beating the Maple Leafs in the final first-round series, the NHL released the full schedules for all the second-round series.

Vegas Golden Knights (P1) vs. San Jose Sharks (P3)

Thursday, April 26, 10pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN

Saturday, April 28, 8pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBC

Monday, April 30, 10pm: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN

Wednesday, May 2, 10pm: Golden Knights @ Sharks | NBCSN

*Friday, May 4, 10pm: Sharks @ Golden Knights | NBCSN

*Sunday, May 6, TBD: Golden Knights @ Sharks | TBD

*Tuesday, May 8, TBD: Sharks @ Golden Knights | TBD

The winner of the Sharks-Golden Knights series will face the winner of the Predators-Jets series in the Western Conference Finals.

Five areas that will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights

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AP

Five areas that will decide series between the Sharks and Golden Knights

The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is all but over, meaning the Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights are finally on the verge of facing off in Game 1 of the second round.

Vegas won the regular season series, 3-1, in its inaugural campaign. The nine-point standings margin between the Golden Knights and Sharks is the largest among the second-round matchups, but the teams are far more alike than they might appear.

They both swept their way out of the first round, have red-hot goalies, and finished just 0.16 percent apart in five-on-five corsi-for percentage in the regular season (per Corsica Hockey). Two of four regular season meetings went to overtime, and three of four were decided by a goal.

In a meme, they’re two, wall-crawling web-slingers pointing at one another.

What will ultimately separate San Jose and Vegas in the first-ever playoff meeting between the two? We’ll answer that important question with five more.

Who has the even-strength edge?
In four regular season games, the five-on-five shot attempt, shot, scoring chance, and high-danger chance differentials were as follows: Vegas plus-two, San Jose plus-six, San Jose plus-five, and San Jose plus-two. The Golden Knights outscored the Sharks 9-6 at even strength in regulation, largely on the back of a .942 five-on-five save percentage compared to Martin Jones and Aaron Dell’s .909.

Both team’s starting goaltenders are coming off of historic first rounds, which makes controlling the run of play that much more critical. Whichever team gains an advantage, no matter how small, will move itself closer to advancing.

Will Marc-Andre Fleury falter?
Speaking of historically performing goaltenders: Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury is in the midst of his best season as a starter. He missed most of the first two months with a concussion, and ultimately started the fewest games as a No. 1 in his 14-year career.

That may have been a blessing in disguise, because Fleury’s arguably never been fresher at any point in his career. He now has a .935 save percentage (.937 five-on-five, per Corsica Hockey) in his last 19 playoff starts dating back to last season, so don’t necessarily expect Fleury to revert to his past, poor postseason form. If he does, though, the Sharks will have an opening.  

How healthy is Brent Burns?
After not participating in the morning skate ahead of Game 4 last week, and skating before but not during the next two practices, the reigning Norris Trophy-winner returned to practice on Monday. Head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Burns could have played in a potential game on Sunday, but this time of year is as notorious for injuries as it is for the tight lips about their circumstances.

Burns scored a goal in Game 1 and pumped a team-high nine pucks on net, but only got six shots off and assisted on a goal over the next three. He still led the team in five-on-five shot attempts, as well as attempts across all situations, of course, but a healthy Burns represents one of the true points of differentiation between San Jose and Vegas, so his status is worth examining.

When will the Golden Knights power play start finishing?
Since March 30, a game after the Golden Knights scored two power-play goals for the second consecutive contest, they have converted on just two of the last 26 power-play opportunities. One of those was on a five-on-three, as the league’s 11th-best power play has gone drier than the Nevada desert.

Vegas has actually attempted almost 10 more five-on-four shots per hour and generated an additional expected goal per hour in the last nine regular season and playoff games compared to the preceding 73, according to Corsica Hockey. During that time, the expansion club has scored on just over three percent of its five-on-four shots. The Sharks have to be careful not to awake a sleeping giant.

Can the Sharks win in Las Vegas?
Only 12 teams won a game at T-Mobile Arena this season. None repeated the feat, and the Sharks were not one of them. San Jose lost by a goal in both trips to the strip, most recently in March when William Karlsson pulled a ‘Hertl’ and gave the Golden Knights the Pacific Division title.

Both losses came under anomalous circumstances, the first a day after Thanksgiving and the second at the end of a four-games-in-six-days road trip, and the Sharks are thus still searching for their first-ever road win against Vegs. They won’t travel to Sin City under similar duress in the postseason, but will have to win (at least) a game on the road against the Golden Knights in order to advance to the Conference Final.