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Why the Sharks can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 4
Stanley Cup Finals prognostications
5/27/16 - By Zach Bodenstein -

For the first time in the franchise's 25-year history, the San Jose Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Finals after successfully capturing the Clarence S. Campbell trophy as Western Conference Champions. They will oppose a core that has not only been here before, but has succeeded in capturing Lord Stanley's cup.

With contributions from the entire depth chart, the Sharks took care of the high-powered Blues in six games, including controlling the pace of play for practically the entire series.

Out of 18 periods in the series, it is safe to say that the Sharks were outplayed for only three of them, and when they were on, St. Louis had no answer for the Sharks' structure in all zones.

Depth players that were going through struggles prior to the series against the Blues found their game- specifically, Roman Polak, Brenden Dillon, and Melker Karlsson. Against the Penguins, this must continue due to their depth.

The penalty kill looked much better against a good powerplay, and at even strength in the defensive zone, the Sharks kept the Blues to the perimeter almost every single time, resulting in Martin Jones cruising through games.

Against a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel on three separate lines, the Sharks are going to have their hands full. However, Pete DeBoer's club has shown that they can match lines with anybody in the league, and that has been made possible with the elevation of play from guys such as Chris Tierney and the aforementioned depth defenders from a shutdown standpoint.

It will be interesting to see who Mike Sullivan, the Penguins' head coach, wants to oppose the shutdown pairing of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun as the coach with the last change at home. The pairing held Tyler Toffoli, Filip Forsberg, and Vladimir Tarasenko- the three top scorers for each of their opponents, to 1 goal and 1 assist combined in the previous three series- not including two garbage time goals by Tarasenko in game 6.

Either way, the other pairings have been fantastic against top players as well, and with Pittsburgh's forward core, they cannot afford to have an off night against any line.

The Sharks showed they can hold off great offenses, as the Blues' depth was tremendous in having guys such as David Backes and Jaden Schwartz in bottom-six roles on many occasions, and that only triggered the hottest offense in hockey to keep going.

The Sharks just kept scoring goals, and when they were not, they were controlling the play in the offensive zone. Against a rookie goaltender and the most vulnerable defensive core the Sharks have played thus far in Pittsburgh, the offensive pressure needs to continue.

It is likely that the Penguins will be relying heavily on Kris Letang, as the rest of the blue line for Pittsburgh is quite weak. When the Sharks faced this situation in round one with Drew Doughty and the Kings, Doughty was held to just one point and a minus-5 rating due to San Jose's depth and skill up front.

The key for the Sharks will be to keep up a good forecheck, as every period that they established a dominant forecheck in was a period that the other team has had no chance in thus far in the postseason. The importance of the forecheck in this series is even greater as Pittsburgh's defenders lack stability.

The Sharks went 1-1-0 against the Penguins in the regular season, including a 3-1 win at Consol Energy Center in November, where the Sharks will open up the first two games of the Final.

San Jose found its road mojo that was lacking in the Nashville series, as they went 2-1 in St. Louis including two decisive victories, and outplayed the Blues mightily in their one-goal loss. They've been playing as well at home as they have been in recent years, as well.

The core looks energized, and the depth players are picking up the pieces. Pittsburgh has faced some good defences this postseason, but the way the Sharks have shut down every offense from both their defenders and their forwards that they have faced is encouraging moving forward.

One thing that must be obvious to the Sharks' coaching staff is not to take penalties against the Penguins, as they have a lethal man advantage with tons of skill and chemistry. Mike Sullivan is probably telling his group the exact same thing.

Aside from having the best and smartest hockey player in the world amongst other stars, what makes Pittsburgh so dangerous is their speed. The 'HBK' line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel has tons of speed that has translated to their offensive success.

The Sharks looked their best when they were physical in taking the body, and doing this against a fast line will negate their opportunities in San Jose's zone. The Sharks' backcheckers have been tremendous as well.

If the Sharks play in the Penguins' zone with the frequency that they did against St. Louis- against a worse defensive core and an inexperienced goaltender, their chances to win this series are good.

It is up to the defense to continue to shut down the opposition's top players, as Pittsburgh has many weapons, and the Sharks have showed that they can handle that.

Game one goes Monday at 5:00 pm PST in Pittsburgh.

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