Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins don’t see each other much during the regular season but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a common bond. For each, the chance to end years of frustration – certainly more for the Sharks than the Penguins – is here.

It’s the Stanley Cup Final, and for just the second time since 2010 the Western Conference is represented by someone other than the Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings. Instead, the Sharks are making their first Cup appearance in franchise history. They’re facing a Penguins team that’s back in the final for the first time since 2009, when they beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup.

A show of hands: Who had these two in the final when they did their preseason predictions? Not many, if any. Two years ago the Sharks had a 3-0 series lead against the Kings, who came back to beat San Jose in four straight. From the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015, the Sharks took letters off sweaters, missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and dismissed coach Todd McLellan. From an outside perspective, it looked like things would get worse before they got better.

As for Pittsburgh, the Penguins have been in the postseason every year since 2009 but failed to return to this stage each time.

So what changed this year for each? Let’s start with the Sharks. As my Bay Area colleague Kevin Kurz pointed out, the Sharks are here for several reasons: A change in attitude and goaltending and finding the right pieces to complement a longstanding core are among them. Removing/renaming captains could have torn the Sharks apart. And while there was plenty of friction and a few verbal jabs at the time, the Sharks stuck together. General manager Doug Wilson made a few key moves, including acquiring Martin Jones from Boston on June 30, 2015 (the Bruins had traded for Jones just four days prior). The backup-turned-starter was excellent.

The Penguins are here due to a lot of the same reasons: They changed coaches and tweaked their lineup around their core. Acquiring defenseman Trevor Daley from the Blackhawks in December proved pivotal. Daley, who didn’t log many minutes with the Blackhawks, fit in immediately with the Penguins. Blackhawks fans who took to Twitter asking, “Why did they trade for Daley?” in July 2015, asked, “Why did they trade Daley away?” in April.

Pittsburgh went with a new goalie, too, albeit for different reasons. When Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined with a concussion in March, Matt Murray got his chance. And outside of Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Murray is still in there. It’s one more feel-good story from a final that is teeming with them.

The path to the Stanley Cup Final is rarely an easy one. Some teams have had to go through massive changes to get there (please see the Blackhawks just prior to 2010). The Sharks and Penguins had to make their changes as well, from personality to personnel. Both have gone through their turmoil to get here. Now to see who ultimately triumphs.

Brendan Perlini still trying to find role with Blackhawks

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AP

Brendan Perlini still trying to find role with Blackhawks

Brendan Perlini's start with the Blackhawks hasn't been ideal. He has zero points and is a minus-6 rating through six games since being acquired — along with Dylan Strome — from the Arizona Coyotes for Nick Schmaltz on Nov. 25. 

In his most recent game, Perlini logged only five shifts and was benched for the final 28:28 in a 4-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. Two days later he found himself a healthy scratch. It's been a little more than two weeks now, but Perlini is still trying to find his role in Chicago.

"You always want to be playing, but I always take the positive in everything and try to improve no matter what the situation is," Perlini said. "It's always tough, you come into a new situation, new things going on, you don't know too many people. ... There's a lot of things going on. I just have to stay focused on what I can do to help the team improve each day."

Is he feeling some pressure to live up to the trade and trying to do too much early on?

‘‘Nah, not really,’’ Perlini said. ‘‘I’m an easygoing guy. I just like to come and play hockey, and that’s it. I don’t think crazy things and blah, blah, blah. I just like to have fun, do my thing, work hard, improve. Hopefully the rest falls into place.’’

The Blackhawks aren't asking too much out of him. He's not going to produce big numbers offensively because that's not the kind of player he is. At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Perlini is more of a power forward and the Blackhawks want him to be harder to play against so that he can turn into a consistent top-9 forward.

"We just want him to have a little more urgency without the puck," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Skate, work, work away from the puck, and I think he'll put himself in good situations."

Perhaps it's a little more difficult to establish your role when the team is on a seven-game losing streak because there's lots of mixing and matching going on as they search for the right formula to break out of it. Perlini (and Strome) has yet to be a part of a win with the Blackhawks, which probably isn't helping as they get acclimated to their new locker room.

But it's also an opportunity to take control and make an impact when things aren't going your way, both individually and as a team, and learn from some of the veterans who have three Stanley Cups on their resume.

"I'm just trying to improve with different things every day and learn off the guys," Perlini said. "Obviously, some unbelievable players. The team is going through a skid, but you take a look around the room — [Jonathan] Toews, [Patrick] Kane, all the guys who have won things and done tremendous things in the game — those are the guys you want to be around and learn from and improve from. For me, regardless of what the situation is, I’m always going to try to improve and better myself.’’

Artem Anisimov (concussion) added to injury report, will not travel to Winnipeg

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USA TODAY

Artem Anisimov (concussion) added to injury report, will not travel to Winnipeg

The Blackhawks announced Monday that Artem Anisimov will not travel to Winnipeg for Tuesday's game against the Jets because he is in concussion protocol.

He suffered the injury on his very first shift of the third period on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens when Shea Weber laid a heavy hit on the Blackhawks center along the boards. Anisimov did not appear to be in immediate discomfort, but he left the ice and did not return.

The injury comes at a time where Anisimov was starting to play some good hockey. He has six points (four goals, two assists) in his past 10 games after having only one point in his previous eight contests. He's also averaging four shots on goal per game over his last five contests.

"He's been playing really well lately, so it's unfortunate both for him and the team," coach Jeremy Colliton said after practice on Monday. "But carry on."

As of now, the Blackhawks do not have any plans to make a call up. Brendan Perlini, who was a healthy scratch on Monday for the first time since being traded to the Blackhawks, is expected to draw back into the lineup in Anisimov's absence.