The Pittsburgh Penguins face the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Prior to the firing of Mike Johnston in December, the Penguins were a train wreck. They were dwelling outside the playoff picture and Sidney Crosby was off to the worse start of his career. Evgeni Malkin wasn’t doing so hot either, but did his best to carry the team during their rough patch.
Fast forward to June, the Penguins are four wins away from raising another Stanley Cup after an improbable run out of obscurity. Crosby and Malkin’s future in Penguin uniform was uncertain months ago, now they are on the verge of cementing their NHL legacies.
The Penguins’ captain took off once he settled into new coach Mike Sullivan’s system. Unlike Johnston, Sullivan allowed the Crosby and the rest of the team showcase their skills instead of trying to force a system upon them that hindered their talents.
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Following the all-star break, Crosby had more goals (19) and assists (25) than he did in the 47 games prior to the break (17 goals, 24 assists). This was only in 33 games, 22 without Malkin, who missed the reminder of the regular season with an upper body injury.
Since returning to the lineup during the Rangers series, the Russian superstar has slowly shaken off the rust. He has averaged over 17 minutes of ice time, tallying 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) while posting a 4 +/-.
Crosby started out the playoffs strong in the Rangers series, but went quiet for much of the Capitals series as did Malkin. The captain woke up in the Eastern Conference Finals scoring three game winning goals including an overtime goal in Game 2 against the Lightning.
Now Crosby and Malkin are just four wins away from bringing another Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh. It will not be easy versus San Jose. Veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been waiting their whole careers to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. Joe Pavelski is playing like his hair is on fire, raking up 13 goals in the playoffs. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has shut down the top lines from the Kings, Predators and Blues.
If the Penguins want to overcome the Sharks, the superstar duo will need to be on their A game. Even though they have their best supporting cast behind them since their last cup victory, the spotlight is on Crosby and Malkin to come up big in these finals.
It is their time to shine again on the biggest stage in hockey. If they hoist the cup when it is all said and done, their legacies will live on not only in Pittsburgh sports, but in NHL lore forever.