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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Evgeni Malkin And His Fiancee Welcome Their First Child By @Williamahirsch

1:57:00 PM 0

Evgeni Malkin and his Fiancee Anna Kasterova (spelt Kasterovoy in Russian) welcomed their first child this morning at 11:45am.

The soon-to-be-Malkins welcomed a baby boy into the world this morning. The couple recently made news when they reportedly registered for a marriage license at the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference Finals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The news of Kasterova's pregnancy was largely able to be kept out of the publics knowledge but the world learned of the couples first child when Russian news source KBMMG posted about the couples birth of a baby boy. The news caught on quickly.

The couple had been dating for two years before getting engaged in November. Now they have reportedly applied for a marriage license and were blessed with a baby boy.

Congratulations to Evgeni Malkin and his Fiancee Anna Kasterova on the birth of their baby boy!


Evgeni Malkin's former Kontinental Hockey League team HC Metallurg, or Metallurg Magnitogorsk, posted a picture of the Malkin families new born's Record of Birth on their Instagram account. The newest addition to the family is officially named Nikita Malkin.

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Radio: PI Post Game - Penguins vs Sharks SCF Game 1 5/30/16

12:00:00 PM 0

It wasn't pretty, but the Penguins did what they had to do to win a Stanley Cup Final game. Pittsburgh jumped on the Sharks early, held on through a tough stretch, and were able to ignite late. After game 1, the Pens lead the series 1-0.

Mike Asti brings the winning ways to the PensInitiative airwaves for the game 1 edition of the Radio: PI Stanley Cup Final post game show!

Where would the Penguins be without their great role players this postseason? Did game 1 show why most believe this will be a long series? What improvements need made before game 2?
As the Penguins play for the NHL's version of gold, Asti keeps delivering his brand of radio gold!
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Monday, May 30, 2016

SCF Game 1 Recap: Late Score Power Pens to 3-2 Win

11:25:00 PM 0

The Penguins dominated the 1st period; San Jose dominated the 2nd. It was Pittsburgh who started to pull away in the 3rd, and a late Nick Bonino goal was able to push them over the top as the Pens took down the Sharks in Game 1 with a 3-2 victory. Also scoring for Pittsburgh were Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary, making it the first time since 1924 that rookies scored the opening two goals in the Stanley Cup Finals, and fellow rookie Matt Murray stopped 24 of 26 San Jose shots to notch the win.

Game 1 starteed with the Penguins driving play over the course of the first half of the 1st period until Dainius Zubrus took a high sticking minor against Ian Cole to give the Pens the first power play of the series.  would get good pressure on the man advantage, but they wouldn't be able to convert the opportunity. Midway through the period, Pittsburgh would be able to convert the pressure they were generating into a goal. Bryan Rust carried the puck up the ice, dished it off to Justin Schultz, and Rust followed up on Schultz's rebound to slam it behind Martin Jones to make it 1-0 Penguins.

It was a great goal to start off the series after threatening to put one in, and it didn't take long for htm to get another. Moments later, Sidney Crosby found Conor Sheary in the right circle from the left boards, and with a Patric Hornqvist screen in front he buried the wrister past Jones to increase the lead to 2-0. And Carl Hagelin would have a chance to blow the roof off CEC on a breakaway, but Brent Burns managed to catch him on the backcheck to poke the puck away.

The teams would enter the locker room for the first intermission with the Pens having played about as solid of an opneing 20 minutes as they could have hoped for, but the Sharks flipped the possession advantage in the 2nd period. A Pittsburgh penalty early in the 2nd period put San Jose, clicking at a 27.0% rate during the playoffs, on the power play when Cole was whistled for holding Melker Karlsson entering the Penguins zone. And it would be the Shark man advantage cutting the deficit in half with a hat tip to Olli Maatta, as the Pittsburgh defender deflected a Tomas Hertl pass off Matt Murray's stick and through his five hole to make it 2-1 Penguins.

The Pens had a great chance to answer midway through the period. Phil Kessel nearly had a goal on a rebound that popped out to him in the slot midway through the period, but he was stick checked at the last second to prevent the goal. It would end up being a big play for San Jose as they'd tie up the game with under two minutes remaining in the 2nd. Murray would challenge Patrick Marleau at the right post, but Marleau would wrap around the net and beat Murray to the far post as the netminder wasn't able to get out of his butterfly and get across the crease to prevent the tying goal.

With 1:09 left in the 2nd period, Joe Pavelski tripped Brian Dumoulin behind the Pittsburgh net to put the Pens back on the powerplay. Pavelski slammed his stick off the ice in disbelief, but replay shows that he clearly got his stick in on Dumoulin's skates. Malkin and Thornton sent off for coincidental minors as well - Malkin for slashing and Thornton for roughing.

The teams came out for the 3rd period with the Pens still on the power play, but the Sharks were able to kill the rest of the advantage and get Pavelski back out of the box. Early in the period, Marleau came across the zone and delivered a shot to Rust's head, going off the ice on a check to the head minor that put Pittsburgh back on the power play, but again they couldn't score with the extra skater. Rust would briefly return to skate another shift, but afterwards he would be held out for the rest of the game.

The teams traded long stretches of controlling the play through the first two periods, and it would be the Penguins' turn to drive possession as the 3rd period progressed, and they would have several good chances as they pushed for the go ahead goal. Crosby would feed Hornqvist on a great chance to spring the Swede behind the defense, but Jones would be able to get his pads together to stop the redirect, and he'd recover to get over and stop Crosby's followup shot from the left boards as well. Minutes later, Kris Letang shot the puck off the end boards and had it bounce out to Kessel on the opposite post, but Jones would do a great job getting over to prevent the chance.

Late in regulation, it would be the Penguins breaking the deadlock to pull ahead 3-2. Letang would fight for the puck in the right corner behind the San Jose net, taking advantage of Brent Burns without a stick, and he was able to find Nick Bonino on the far post. Bonino settled the puck the snapped it over Jones' right shoulder to allow Pittsburgh to retake the lead. Of course, it wouldn't be easy to close out the game as Ben Lovejoy was given a 2 minute hooking major after mugging Marleau throughout the Pittsburgh defensive zone. The dangerous Shark power play would take the ice, and pulling Jones would give San Jose a 6-on-4 advantage, but they weren't able to force overtime and the Pens took first blood in the series.

Pittsburgh would race out to a big possession advantage in the 1st period only to watch it disappeared as the Sharks roared back in the 2nd period with the Pens dialing back the aggression. However, they'd be able to recover in the 3rd period as they mounted enough pressure to eventually get the game winning goal, and the Penguins finished with a score-adjusted 52.6 CF% on the evening. It was further proof that this team needs to keep forcing the issue and attacking the other team's zone, even with a lead. The teams will be back at it Wednesday night for Game 2, and Pittsburgh will attempt to take a 2-0 lead as the series shifts back to San Jose.
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SCF Game 1 Preview: vs San Jose Sharks - May 30, 2016

5:09:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (12-6) at San Jose Sharks (12-6)
May 30, 2016 @ 8:00 PM - Consol Energy Center

After 7 years of trying to get back, the Pittsburgh Penguins have finally returned to the Stanley Cup Finals. After 25 years in existence, along with some very talented teams that weren't able to get over the hump, the San Jose Sharks will play in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time. The story lines are nearly endless as the teams prepare to kick off the series. On the Pens' side, Sidney Crosby became the youngest captain in NHL history to lift the Stanley Cup, as Sid the Kid was 21 years old when Pittsburgh knocked off the Red Wings in 7 games. Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy at 22 years old, and the prevailing opinion at the time was that it would be the first of many championships for the young core, but Crosby and Malkin are now in their late 20s still looking for that elusive second Cup.

As for San Jose, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are longtime Sharks who have been around for the disappointing early exits from the postseason. Marleau is the former captain of the Sharks, who was stripped of his "C" to find it end up on Thornton, who likewise would go on to lose it in favor of current captain Joe Pavelski. The two have taken more than their fair share for San Jose's shortcomings, but they're both big parts of the reason why the Sharks are here today. Thornton continues to be one of the best players in the game, leading San Jose and finishing 4th in the entire league with 82 points (19g, 63a). He's continued it in the postseason as well, with 18 points (3g, 15a) in as many games. And while Marleau has started to lose a step, he's still a very effective player and one of the Sharks' better scorers, finishing 4th during the regular season with 48 points (25g, 23a) and currently sits 5th in the playoffs with 12 points (4g, 8a).

While the old guard has been a big part of the playoff push, it's the new wave of Sharks who have been driving the Cup run. Logan Couture leads the team and the league with 24 points (8g, 16a) while Pavelski is the top goal scorer with 13 along with 9 assists. Defenseman Brent Burns also tops a point per game in the playoffs with 6 goals and 14 assists in 18 games played. These are the type of contributions that the Sharks weren't getting years ago as they were derided as chokers, and combined with Thornton and Marleau they present a formidable offensive punch.

That offensive punch has led to San Jose to scoring at a 3.50 goals per game clip over the course of the postseason, best in the league, while they've allowed just 2.28 goals per game in the postseason as well, third behind only the Washington Capitals and the Anaheim Ducks, two teams that stopped playing long ago. Martin Jones has backstopped the team this far, posting a 0.919 SV% and 2.12 GAA, numbers largely in line with the 0.918 SV% and 2.27 GAA he recorded during the regular season. They're numbers not far off the league average, and the offensive punch and possession ability of the Sharks have done a more than adequate job of shielding him through their playoff run.

Projected Lines


- Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin have been named to Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. Inexplicably, Phil Kessel was left off Team USA despite being one of their best international performers and a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite, and Kris Letang couldn't make the cut on a deep Team Canada blueline.

- Nick Bonino has missed practice after hurting himself blocking a shot in the 3rd period of Game 7 against the Lightning. He returned later in the period to finish out the game, and he's expected in the lineup for Game 1 against the Sharks.

- A number of players have previously won the Stanley Cup in this series, more so on the Penguins side, but Chris Kunitz is the only 2-time Cup Champion taking part in this series.
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Hello, Old Friend by @BrianK_PI

1:30:00 PM 0

Paul Martin and the Pittsburgh Penguins have made the Stanley Cup Finals and will take on, well, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Paul Martin. While at one time it might have been expected that the Pens would make the Cup Finals during Martin's 5 year tenure with the team, it never came to fruition. It was difficult watching him depart in free agency as a still capable defender while the team was still very much in need of one, but now it's a tad bittersweet to be making the SCF only to see Martin lining up on the other side.

Martin originally came to Pittsburgh on a 5 year, $25 million contract after spending his first 6 seasons with the New Jersey Devils. Then GM Ray Shero was looking to replace the contributions from Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi that he lost in the 2009 offseason, and he struck quickly when free agency opened in 2010, signing both Martin and Zbynek Michalek to big money deals. But reviews were mixed on Martin early during his time in Pittsburgh. Playing mostly with Michalek over the first two seasons, the pairing struggled on the ice, managing only a 44.4 GF% along with a 53.1 CF% together in over 1,200 minutes. In contrast, Martin by himself over a similar number of minutes posted a 56.4 GF% and 56.5 CF% - elite numbers.

It was clear that Michalek was dragging down the pair, and luckily for the Penguins Shero didn't make any rash moves. Given that he was becoming the whipping boy among the fans and media, Shero offered the opportunity for a trade elsewhere, somewhere where Martin could be better appreciated. To his credit, Martin declined the offer, wanting to honor his commitment in Pittsburgh and win the franchise a Stanley Cup. Shero ended up trading Michalek back to the Coyotes after the 2011-12 season, opening up Martin to play with a better defensive partner.

Of course, that didn't always happen, as Martin found himself on a "shutdown" pairing with Brooks Orpik for a good chunk of his time over his last three seasons in Pittsburgh. While the two did manage a 55.0 GF% to go along with their 48.7 CF%, it wasn't the best use of his talents. When allowed to play with an elite defenseman like Kris Letang, the pairing was stellar. Martin and Letang combined for an absurd 63.9 GF% and 55.9 CF% when used together, and they gave the Penguins an elite pairing that could effectively force the play into the opposition's zone.

The Penguins have lost a lot of defensemen in recent years, including Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Simon Despres, but Mike Sullivan has done a great job making the players at his disposal work for Pittsburgh. Undoubtedly the Pens would have liked to keep Martin, but given his age and their cap situation it just wasn't in the cards. Now 35, Paul Martin is approaching the downside of his career, but his understated strong play hasn't begun to suffer yet. Playing mostly with Brent Burns, Martin continued the type of success he's demonstrated over the course of his career, managing a 55.1 GF% along with a 51.7 CF%. And now, he can add conference champion to his resume. But unlike in recent years, the Penguins will be attempting to prevent Paul Martin from lifting the Stanley Cup. And Pens fans will have to deal with the conflicted emotions rooting against Martin will cause.
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2016 Stanley Cup Finals: By the Numbers

12:00:00 PM 0

And then there were two. The field has winnowed its way down from 16 participants to just the two finalists, and each brings with them a story of redemption and resiliency. The Penguins under Mike Johnston were spiraling downwards, first last season as they qualified for the final seed in the playoffs on the last day, but further this year as they were a mediocre team playing less than mediocre hockey. The firing of Johnston and the hiring of Mike Sullivan abruptly changed the course of their season, and it's one that has resulted in at least an Eastern Conference Championship.

The Sharks got a head start on the Penguins in the coaching search, hiring new coach Peter DeBoer during the 2015 offseason after firing longtime coach Todd McLellan. They also got a head start on the spiral downwards last year too as they missed the postseason after 10 consecutive appearances. Like Pittsburgh since the Cup win in 2009, they've been a talented team that hasn't been able to break through, but they've exorcised the demons from their most recent playoff series prior to this year, a 7 game loss to the Kings after leading the series 3-0, and the Sharks are the closest to the Stanley Cup that they've ever been in the 25 year history of their franchise.


Pittsburgh and San Jose were two of the better possession teams during the 2015-16 regular season, finishing 2nd (53.0%) and 8th (52.1%), respectively. They've both followed a similar pattern to the season as well, as they started off relatively weak, gained strength down the stretch run of the regular season, and have seen their 25 game average dip in the postseason. It should be noted, however, that both teams had a strong series possession-wise in their conference finals, with the Penguins notching a 55.6 SACF% against the Lightning and the Sharks recording a 54.0 SACF% against the Blues. If there's one thing the Pens have done in the playoffs that they weren't doing in the regular season, it's going into a defensive shell to close out games, and they'll need to keep the pedal to the metal to prevent a strong San Jose team from having the types of opportunities to come back that were afforded to Tampa Bay.

Scoring Offense/Defense

The Pittsburgh offense was dead in the water under former coach Mike Johnston, but it's been a different story under Mike Sullivan as they've steadily improved their 25 game average with him behind the bench. In fact, the Pens managed to go from having a +0 goal differential under Johnston to finishing 2nd in the league over the course of the entire season with a +42. The Sharks also struggled during the first part of the season, having a +5 goal differential and the halfway point, but like the Pens they too surged down the stretch and finished with a +31. Over the course of these playoffs, San Jose has a leg up in both categories, having more goals per game (3.50 vs 3.22) and allowing fewer per game (2.28 vs 2.39).

Shooting/Save Percentages

It takes talent to win the Stanley Cup, but it also takes a decent amount of luck as well. Perhaps the luck part of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Penguins was that they were able to win it despite being so unlucky. Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head for much of the ECF, and the Tampa Bay offense was able to convert their chances at a much higher rate than Pittsburgh. When the dust settled, the Pens had put up a 97.8 PDO in the series yet still won the 4 games to move onto the Finals. That leaves them with a 101.2 PDO over the first three rounds while the Sharks are still sky high at 104.1.

Both teams have been flirting with a shooting percentage in double digits, but the Sharks have been particularly hot in the playoffs with a 12.5 SH% in all situations. Their ability to put goals up on the board and drive play during the postseason has been key to insulating Martin Jones. While Jones isn't a bad goalie, he'll easily be the least challenging goalie the Pens have seen up to this point, and his 0.919 SV% does speak to a goalie who has been stealing series for his team. If Matt Murray can show that the start of the Tampa Bay series was a fluke, and his final two games and first two series are what to expect from him in net, then Pittsburgh will have an advantage between the pipes, and the ability of the teams to control the possession game will play a huge role in determining the eventual Cup Champs.

Season Series Results

November 21, 2015: SJ 3 - PIT 1
December 1, 2015: PIT 5 - SJ 1

Neither of the two games between the teams took place with Mike Sullivan behind the Pittsburgh bench, nor did they occur when the Sharks began to put the pieces together over the back stretch of the season. Brent Burns had a pair of goals in the San Jose win, while Phil Kessel totaled 3 goals over the two games.
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Sunday, May 29, 2016

How the West was Won by @BrianK_PI

4:49:00 PM 0

To see how the East was won, click here

The San Jose Sharks have been ridiculed over the years for their inability to take talented teams to the Stanley Cup Finals. They've been the Washington Capitals of the West, or perhaps the Caps have been the San Jose Sharks of the East, but either way they've underscored just how difficult it is to win the conference, let alone the Stanley Cup. But this has been a year of redemption on both sides, and their story has some similarities to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While the Pens squeaked into the playoffs last year before bottoming out in December and firing their coach, that process happened in San Jose at the end of last season. Long time coach Todd McLellan was fired after the Sharks failed to advance to the postseason since 2003, and in came Peter DeBoer, the former coach of the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. And while DeBoer over saw a New Jersey team that made a surprising trip to the Cup Finals in 2012, he was usually given little to work with and usually got little out of them.

Like the Pens were supposed to be watching the window close on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's prime years, the Sharks were supposed to be watching the window begin to close on the careers of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, both 36 years old. The former 1st and 2nd overall picks of the 1997 NHL Draft, the two have been the Sharks franchise since Thornton came over during the 2005-06 season - strangely enough, the year he won the Hart Trophy. But the Sharks did rebound in 2015-16 in the weak Pacific Division, finishing 3rd and making the playoffs. However, they appeared to have one of the most difficult draws in the entire bracket. As the playoffs began, it appeared that they'd have to go through two Cup favorites, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The Sharks would travel to L.A. to face the Kings in the opening round, their nemesis who had eliminated them each of their last two trips to the postseason, including in 2013-14 when San Jose blew a 3-0 series lead in the opening round. A pair of one goal victories in a high-scoring 4-3 Game 1 and a defensive 2-1 Game 2 would allow the Sharks to build a 2-0 lead traveling back home. And when Joe Thornton scored his first of the playoffs in the opening minute of Game 3, it'd appear that San Jose was well on the way to exorcising their demons. However, Anze Kopitar answered on the power play later in the period, and the 1-1 held up for the rest of regulation to force overtime. And just minutes in, Tanner Pearson was the unlikely hero, scoring the game winner to give the Kings the 2-1 win and trim the Sharks' series lead to 2-1 in the process.

Given past playoff results, the Kings' win in Game 3 might have seemed like the start of another let down for San Jose, but they quickly put that talk to rest in Game 4 as they raced out to a 3-0 lead. Los Angeles made a push in the 3rd period, cutting the lead to one with a lot of time left on the clock, but the Sharks held on to take the 3-1 series lead. And in Game 5, they put the exclamation point on the series and cemented the fact that this was going to be a different team than previous years. After taking another 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period, they watched that lead disappear before the second intermission after the Kings put three straight up on the board. But again, they showed a resolve the previous Sharks teams weren't able to manage, and after 3 goals in the 3rd period they were moving past their in-state rivals and on to the next round.

It was the new wave of Sharks who powered San Jose to the Western Conference Semifinals. Brent Burns had a huge series, leading the team with 8 points (2g, 6a) to go along with a team-high 23:58 in ice time. Captain Joe Pavelski was huge in putting up 5 goals and an assist in the five games, while Logan Couture had a goal to go along with his 5 assists. Unlike previous years, Joe Thornton (1g, 2a) and Patrick Marleau (1g, 3a) were able to show up and play well without worrying about carrying the weight of the team on their shoulders. Martin Jones also played well enough in goal to move on, posting a 0.912 SV% to go along with a 2.18 GAA.

In a stroke of luck, the Sharks wouldn't have to face the Ducks, who fell in 7 games to the Nashville Predators, allowing them to start their second round series at home against an arguably easier opponent. But as they'd find out, that didn't mean they'd be an easy out. San Jose had a great start to the series as they won both their home games. After falling behind 1-0 after two period in Game 1, the Sharks exploded for 5 goals in the 3rd period. Game 2 would also see a big 3rd period, this time with San Jose taking a 1-0 lead into the final frame, and both teams put two goals up on the board in the final 20 minutes to give the Sharks the 3-2 win and the 2-0 series lead.

Things were going great for San Jose, but they'd hit a road bump when they flew out to Nashville. The Sharks would take a 1-0 lead midway through the 1st period, but at risk of falling into a 3-0 series hole, the Predators roared back and scored four straight unanswered goals to take the 4-1 win. Game 4 was a tight contest with both sides trading goals throughout the game to set up a classic overtime with the score tied 3-3. The first overtime would come and go with neither team getting the game winner. The second overtime would come and go with still no goal up on the board. It was a game with huge implications, as the series would either go back to San Jose tied or with the Sharks having a commanding 3-1 lead. And midway through the third overtime, it'd be Mike Fisher slipping a rebound around Martin Jones to give Nashville the win and keep the series competitive.

Just like in the previous series against the Kings, the Sharks would handle the adversity well against the Predators. On home ice, San Jose rebounded nicely and dominated Nashville with a 5-1 drubbing, putting the team one win away from returning to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2011. However, they again stumbled when the series shifted back to Nashville as the Predators were able to overcome an early 2-0 deficit to force overtime, and they escaped with another 4-3 overtime win to force a decisive Game 7. Anything can happen in a single game, but the Sharks put to bed any thoughts of falling short, thrashing the Preds 5-0 with goals from all their big name forwards - Pavelski, Couture, Thornton, Marleau, and Joel Ward.

Again, the Sharks got great productions from the top of their lineup. Logan Couture led the way with 11 points (6g, 5a), and Joe Thornton had a big series with 8 points (2g, 6a). A trio of big names weren't far behind them either: Joe Pavelski (4g, 3a), Brent Burns (2g, 5a), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (7a) all hit a point per game in the series as well, and Martin Jones had a good series as well with a 0.922 SV% and 2.16 GAA.

With a conference that had been dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings in recent years, the Western Conference Finals would be a matchup of Cup-less teams that vanquished the titans of the conference in the opening round. The St. Louis Blues took out the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks in the first round before beating the West's top seed in the Dallas Stars to advance to the WCF. The series started off in St. Louis with the Blues taking a 2-1 Game 1 win in a defensive contest before an offensive explosion from the Sharks in a 4-0 Game 2 blowout.

After splitting the games in St. Louis, they'd split the next two in San Jose as well. A pair of Tomas Hertl goals would help power the Sharks past the Blues 3-0 in Game 3, while game 4 would be all St. Louis. The Blue raced out to a 4-0 lead through two periods, and though the 3rd period would be a high scoring affair, it would end with a 6-3 win in favor of the visitors and a tie series heading back to St. Louis.

That'd be about as close as the Blues were able to come to moving on to the franchise's first Stanley Cup Finals since 1970. The Sharks flipped the script on the Blues in Game 6 as they beat St. Louis by a 6-3 final score as Joe Pavelski and Joel Ward each potted a pair of goals, and unlike in the series against the Predators, San Jose wouldn't let their opponents linger around. Ward had another two goal night as the Sharks raced out to a 4-0 lead and eventual 5-2 series-clinching win.

The victory gave San Jose the first Western Conference title in their 25 year history, and like the previous round their big guns came out firing. Joe Pavelski had another huge series, netting 9 points (4g, 5a) in the 6 games against the Blues, with Logan Couture (1g, 6a) and and Joe Thornton (7a) each topping a point per game. Martin Jones continued his solid play in net as well, and the 0.920 SV% and 2.02 GAA were enough to power the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Like the Penguins, the Sharks were able to overcome their perceived slide back into mediocrity on their way to marching through their conference en route to the Finals. They're a strong team that will meet an opponent who is able to match the considerable star power that they possess. Both teams have depth and high end talent, and it should set the stage for a close, entertaining series that should be one for the ages. 
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Noise in the Forest: The NHL's Image Problem by @LCJS

3:30:00 PM 1

Game One of the Stanley Cup Final is tomorrow. You're reading this, so I'm going to assume this is no revelation for you. You know the Pens will face the Sharks in a best-of-7 series where the "WizardOfCroz" and "TheIncredibleMalk" will try to out-pace a more sizable opponent, just as it was in the series against the Washington Capitals.
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Remember Last Year? by @Nick422

2:30:00 PM 0
The Penguins are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the fifth time in franchise history.  We know this is no longer a dream because Game 1 is tomorrow night, on Consol ice no less.  A year ago, though?  This seemed too far fetched to be true.  Oh how far we've come.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

How the East was Won by @BrianK_PI

6:36:00 PM 0

To see how the West was won, click here

When Evgeni Malkin went down with an injury March 11 against the Blue Jackets, many opined that it would be the end of Pittsburgh's season. It wasn't a totally ridiculous thought at the time, as the win against Columbus bumped them up to the first wild card spot, and they were about to lose one of their most important players for the rest of the regular season. It'd be hard to imagine how far this team has come since that day without living the rush they've been on. That game against the Jackets kicked off an end to the season that saw the Pens win 14 of their final 16 games to catapult them to second in both the Metro and the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins started off the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs down to their 3rd goaltender after Matt Murray was injured in the regular season finale against the Philadelphia Flyers, and with Marc-Andre Fleury having already missed the final 5 games with a concussion. Pittsburgh split their opening two games with the Rangers with Jeff Zatkoff in net, looking much less aggressive and effective than the team that tore through the final 16 games of their schedule. Patric Hornqvist kicked off the postseason with a bang, recording a hat trick in the Pens’ 5-2 Game 1 win, but the team wasn’t able to generate the same type of offense in a 4-2 Game 2 loss. Murray was cleared for game action in time for Game 3, and once back he was a key part in closing the Rangers out in 5 games as Murray closed the door on the good chances New York was able to generate and outplayed Henrik Lundqvist at the other end. Putting the exclamation point on a dominant series, Pittsburgh chased Lundqvist from the net in both Game 4 and Game 5 as the Rangers skaters couldn’t hang with the talent, depth, and speed of the Penguins.

In 3 games played, Matt Murray stopped 85 of 89 shots against, posting a 1.33 GAA and 0.955 SV% in the process. The offense was clicking too, with Sidney Crosby leading the team in scoring with 8 pts (3g, 5a), Evgeni Malkin right behind him with 7 pts (2g, 5a) in one game fewer, and the bottom of the lineup chipping in with timely scoring as well. Phil Kessel scored 3 goals and added 3 assists, Nick Bonino had 5 assists, and Bryan Rust chipped in with 2 goals and an assist in 4 games.

The win moved them onto the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but due to the new playoff format they managed to bump into the Presidents' Trophy winning Washington Capitals, a 120 point regular season team that built up an 11 point cushion over the 2nd best team in the league. With a high-powered offense and the Vezina Trophy favorite in Brayden Holtby, who had just allowed 5 goals in 6 games against the Flyers, the Caps were going to prove to be a difficult challenge for the Penguins.

And it would be the Capitals who would draw first blood with a 4-3 overtime victory. After trading the lead back and forth throughout the game, it would be T.J. Oshie notching the hat trick midway through the first overtime on a wraparound shot that just trickled its way across the goal line. Unsurprisingly, it would be a chippy series between the two rivals, and Tom Wilson started things with a blatant knee-on-knee hit against Conor Sheary in the 3rd period. The play went unpenalized on the ice, and Wilson would only receive a fine from the Department of Player Safety.

It was only a sign of things to come. Minutes into a 2-1 Pittsburgh victory in Game 2, Brooks Orpik would concuss Olli Maatta with an outrageously late hit up high well away from the play. He somehow only received a 2 minute minor for interference, but the Department of Player Safety took a tougher stand on the hit, suspending Orpik for 3 games. It was a decision that would heavily influence the next illegal hit to come across their desk, and it would be one that put the Penguins at a disadvantage. In the 1st period of Game 3, Kris Letang would deliver a late hit to Marcus Johansson as he crossed the Pittsburgh blue line. While there would be similarities to the Orpik hit, there were also marked differences. Letang's hit was slightly outside the league's 0.5 second allowance, and Johansson was able to finish the game, a finish it with a career high 9 hits at that.

The Pens won Game 3 by a 3-2 score to take a 2-1 lead, but things looked bleak heading into Game 4 without arguably their most irreplaceable player. In fact, most of the hockey world was predicting that the Caps would send the series back to Washington tied. After matching goals in each of the first two period, the teams would play a scoreless 3rd period and head to overtime. But the OT period wouldn't last for long, as Mike Weber whiffed on clearing the puck and it came to Hornqvist in the right circle, and he buried the shot behind Holtby to give Pittsburgh the improbable 3-1 series lead.

It was a display of resiliency that came to define the team under Mike Sullivan down the stretch, and it wouldn't be the first time the Penguins would be able to dig down and come up with a big play when it mattered most. The Capitals were able to stave off elimination in Game 5 with a 3-1 win to send the series back to Pittsburgh, where the Pens would build a 3-0. However, T.J. Oshie would get a goal 1:30 before the end of the second intermission to set the stage for a huge 3rd period. Justin Williams would cut the lead to one 7 minutes into the period, then an almost unthinkable situation happened midway through the period. Chris Kunitz would clear the puck over the glass from the defensive zone, giving the Capitals a power play and a chance to tie. To make matters worse, Nick Bonino would swat a puck out of midair over the glass while killing off the penalty, giving the Capitals a 5-on-3 to work with. And though the Penguins would be able to kill off Kunitz's minor, Ian Cole would clear the puck out of play seconds later for the team's 3rd delay of game penalty in just over 2 minutes.

It'd be too much to ask for the penalty kill to hold up under that much pressure, and John Carlson would score what appeared to be a back breaking goal that would catapult Washington to a win that would tie the series. But the Penguins managed to keep them off the board and the teams would play their third overtime game of the series. However, in a moment where the team could have folded up and lived to fight another day, the resiliency of these Pittsburgh Penguins shone through in the overtime period. After it took a diving play by Jay Beagle to prevent a Trevor Daley goal, Bonino was able to slide a rebound past Holtby to give the Penguins a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.

If it wasn't impressive enough that the Pens beat the best team from the regular season, they did so on the contributions from their 3rd line while their stars didn't have their best series. The HBK line was dominant against the Capitals, with Carl Hagelin (3g, 4a), Phil Kessel (2g, 4a) and Nick Bonino (2g, 3a) ranking 1-2-3 in scoring during the series. Crosby and Malkin may have led the team in the first round, but each only managed two points against Washington, and Malkin had the lone goal the two scored. It was a far cry from previous years when the Penguins would only go as far as their generational talents would take them, but this team has had a different feel from those in years past. Matt Murray backed up his strong play against the Rangers with another great series against the Capitals, with a 0.926 SV% and 2.40 GAA in his 6 starts. He played so well that even though Marc-Andre Fleury was cleared for game action, and that there were calls for him to resume his place in the net, Mike Sullivan was incapable of pulling the hot goalie from the net.

The path to the Stanley Cup Finals wouldn't get any easier at this point, as Pittsburgh would move on from the 2015-16 Presidents' Trophy Winners to the 2014-15 Eastern Conference Champions. The Tampa Bay Lightning would be their opponent after taking the easy way through the playoffs, eliminating the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders by 4-1 margins each. It was about as easy of a path to the conference finals as a team could hope for, and many believed that it would be a quick series for the Penguins.

However, the Lightning would put that belief to rest in a crazy 3-1 victory in Game 1. Minutes into the game, Ryan Callahan showed that the dirty play wasn't going to be left behind in the Washington series when he raced across the offensive zone to blatantly board Kris Letang from behind. He got a boarding major, though no game misconduct, although he would end up missing Game 2 with the flue anyways. Later in the 1st period, Ben Bishop would crumple to the ice on a freak injury that would see him miss the rest of the series. Luckily for Tampa Bay, he would prove more than capable in net for the Bolts, and at times he would almost single-handedly keep them in games.

Pittsburgh would rebound nicely over the next two games with some impressive displays of controlling play, thoroughly outclassing the Lightning skaters on the ice on their way to a pair of victories and a 2-1 series lead. However, despite registering 89 shots on goal over those two games and a decided possession advantage, they managed only a 3-2 OT win in Game 2 and a 4-2 win in Game 3 as Vasilevskiy played outstanding hockey in relief of the injured Bishop.

With a chance to bury the Bolts in a 3-1 series hole heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5, the Penguins had an uncharacteristically bad start to the game that saw them facing a 4-0 deficit heading into the 3rd period. It's a start that would also get Matt Murray yanked and allow Marc-Andre Fleury his first action of the postseason. Things looked bad for the home team, but they would mount a furious comeback over the final 20 minutes. Phil Kessel scored early in the period, Evgeni Malkin scored another midway through the 3rd, and when Chris Kunitz added a power play tally minutes later to pull the Pens within one with just under 7 minutes remaining. However, they weren't able to get the equalizer, and the Lightning would tie the series heading into Game 5. And while Mike Sullivan wasn't willing to pull a hot goalie when Murray was playing well,

 It would appear that the Penguins had put their bad play from the first two periods of Game 4 behind them when they built a 2-0 lead in Game 5, but they'd quickly give it back when Tampa Bay scored back-to-back goals within 1:10 to tie the game. They'd retake the lead with under a minute left in the 2nd on a Kunitz goal, but Nikita Kucherov would score his second of the game to ultimately send the game to overtime, and a Jason Garrison shot that deflected off Tyler Johnson's back would end up in the net behind Fleury and put the Bolts one win away from a second straight Eastern Conference Championship.

The series would shift back to Tampa Bay with the Lightning having a chance to win in front of their home fans, but the Penguins from Games 2 and 3 would return and dominate gameplay through the first two periods en route to building a 3-0 lead. However, they again began to retreat into a defensive shell in the final period, and they allowed Tampa to claw back into the game with a pair of goals to cut the lead to 3-2. But a Bryan Rust breakaway goal sealed the win, forcing a decisive Game 7 with the Prince of Wales Trophy on the line. And the man who sealed Game 6 was the driving force behind the Game 7 victory, notching both Pittsburgh goals in the 2-1 win.

It was truly a team victory in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the team received balanced scoring up and down the lineup. Chris Kunitz (3g, 3a), Evgeni Malkin (1g, 5a), and Phil Kessel (4g, 2a) led the team in scoring with 6 points a piece, while Bryan Rust (3g, 2a), Nick Bonino (1g, 4a), and Sidney Crosby (3g, 2a) were not far behind with 5 points each. And while the stars caught flak from the media after the series against the Capitals, Crosby scored 3 game winning goals in the series and Evgeni Malkin finished off the series with a 5 game point streak.

The win was a remarkable turnaround for a team all but dead in December, but there are still 4 more wins left to get to fully complete a truly remarkable season. It won't be an easy series against the San Jose Sharks, as they also boast a deep and talented lineup with offensive talent on the back end and a capable goalie in Martin Jones. The series kicks off Money night in Pittsburgh, and the Pens will need to display more of the resiliency they have since Sullivan took over to finish the job. But the East was won on talent and speed, and they'll need both to win the Stanley Cup for the 4th time in franchise history.
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Don't Underestimate Joel Ward by @WilliamAHirsch

4:30:00 PM 0

Sure the San Jose Sharks boast players like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Brent Burns, however, their most effective player during the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been right winger Joel Ward.

Having played against the Penguins consistently for the past four years before signing with the Sharks in the offseason as a member of the Penguins rivals, the Washington Capitals, Ward knows darn well what competing against Pittsburgh requires.

Ward will have the opportunity to be a leader to his teammates who have not faced Pittsburgh that much about what it's going to take to beat the Penguins

Ward has scored six times and added five helpers for 11 points during the San Jose's 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. His goals have been timely, like his two goals in Game Six that helped sink the St. Louis Blues and help the Sharks get to their first franchise Stanley Cup Final.

Ward has a history of being a good playoff performer and scoring huge goals.

Joel Ward famously scored the series clinching Game Seven overtime goal in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs Quarterfinals as a member of the Capitals against the Boston Bruins.

Joel has recorded 20 goals and 26 assists in 71 total Stanley Cup Playoff games in his career. His career 12.1 regular season shooting percentage has been ramped up to 16.1 percent in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ward makes his shots count.

So yes, the Penguins will have to keep tabs on Thornton, Marleau, and Burns but if you think that's all they have to worry about, you might be in for another big surprise.
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Radio: PI Post Game - Penguins Eliminate Lightning ECF Game 7 5/26/16

3:30:00 PM 0

Your Pittsburgh Penguins are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the fifth time in franchise history! The Penguins proved to be too much for Tampa, winning game 7 of the NHL's Eastern Conference Finals.

Mike Asti helps you celebrate everything that was this memorable victory. Did facing elimination in game 6 give the Pens a necessary boost? What triggerd the extra pep in Malkin's step? Was Stamkos handled properly by the Lightning? How does Pittsburgh match-up with San Jose?

It's been an asinine roller coaster ride of a year for the 2015-2016 Pittsburgh Penguins, but it will end playing for Lord Stanley's Cup!

As the Penguins prepare to play for NHL gold, Asti gives you radio gold on the PensInitiative airwaves.
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Crowns and Clowns ECF: Penguins vs. Lightning by @Medina_Marie17

12:03:00 PM 1

How are you feeling Pens Kingdom? Has your heart beat returned to somewhat normal? Are you still riding the Eastern Conference Championship high? Did you get any sleep at all last night? Well, I hope you are used to it because more work is to be done. The Penguins battled the Bolts down to the final game of the series and what a game it was. From the crowd to the players to the storylines, the kingdom is, once again, buzzing with Stanley Cup fever.
3 series down. The most important lays before them…but before Pens begin their journey to take on the San Jose Sharks, let us review my picks for Crowns and Clowns ECF: Pens vs. Bolts.


High King: Head Coach Mike Sullivan

It takes a special person to instill a sense of confidence and worth into someone else when they are at rock bottom. As such, it takes a special coach to “right the ship” after it’s drifted too far out to sea. When Head Coach, Mike Sullivan, took over the team in mid-December, the Penguins were 5 points out of a playoff spot and were sinking fast. Then, there was the come from behind win against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 31st. The game where it all clicked. The game that started the comeback from being dead and (almost) buried to becoming the hottest team going into the 2016 Playoffs. Only an extraordinary coach could have accomplished this feat and the Penguin fan base is thrilled and honored to call him OUR coach. Mike Sullivan now wears the crown as High King, as he should. The Princess bows to his majesty.

Prince: Bryan Rust
A familiar face to the C&C segment but as deserving as ever. The “career AHL’er” as he was called by one blogger, has shown his grit, his drive and his true ability. He (finally) capitalized on a pivotal breakaway goal in Game 6 and tallied BOTH goals in Game 7, sending the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals.
Those two goals made Rust only the 4th Penguin in team history (and the first rookie) to post multiple goals in a game 7. I guess he really does deserve that contract after all, doesn’t he. Some call him Rusty, but I call the speedy, grinding, trash-talking, fighting Irish alum, the Tasmanian Devil (for reasons just mentioned) and the smiling Prince of this series.

Duke: Matt Murray
Figuring out who would take the title of Duke was a little more challenging. So many players stepped up to help get the Pens through this series but in the end, it comes down to having a strong goalie to keep the other team from getting ahead. Matt Murray had never seen a team as fast as the Lightning. Some wondered if now was the time to put in Marc-Andre Fleury. With only one shaky game, Matt Murray stood his ground and when the final horn blew, it was he who was in the middle of the celebration pile. 22- year old Matthew Murray… our goalie, our future, and this series noble Duke.


The Bozo(s): The Black Eyes of NBC Sports
I said it in my piece earlier in the week and I am making good on that promise. Due to their on air comments and actions (as well as a not knowing how to phrase a question regarding a players endurance and lung capacity), Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire are your Bozo’s of the series. Condoning goon-like behavior and indicating that taking out a team’s stars via injury is a “good game plan” is no joking matter in my eyes.

It was obvious Milbury was joking”.

“Well, Pierre didn’t choose the clips” (okay, if that is the case then he also didn’t apologize for the examples that were being used either).

YOU DO NOT JOKE ABOUT PURPOSLY INJURING OTHER PLAYERS! Then, after Game 7 was in the books, Mike Milbury goes on to try and discredit Bryan Rust’s second goal. NO MIKEY, that is not okay. No Pierre, that just doesn’t “make the cut” in my book. Now share the jingly-bell hat like good boys and hopefully you can learn from your mistake and engage that brain-to-mouth filter you seem to have forgotten about.

The Simpleton: The 3rd-Period “protect” defense

This is what your "protect" defense makes us feel
It has been an issue time and again. The Penguins have a strong lead, and then the 3rd period starts. They sit back and try to play “let’s just protect the lead” instead of keeping their foot on the gas for the last 20 minutes. It has come back to bite them and have taken games into overtime because of it, sometimes costing them the game.
It almost cost them game 6 and thereby would have eliminated them from the playoffs. Luckily, in Game 7, the Penguins kept the pressure on (for the most part) and were able to defend and keep their one-goal lead to victory. But the “protect” defense HAS TO STOP. Hopefully now they have realized this and will not engage it against the Sharks because it can and will spell disaster.

The Jester: Steven Stamkos
Generally, Steven is a decent human being and he is one heck of a hockey player. But no game, no sport is worth putting your life and career on the line. A blood clot is a serious thing. You need only ask Pascal Dupuis. Stamkos was out 56 days/21 games after undergoing surgery to deal with a clot around his collarbone area. He missed the entirety of the playoffs but made the decision to play in this game.


I get it. It’s a game 7. The season is on the line and he wants to be a part of it. But is possibly ending your career and maybe your life worth it? He played all of 11 minutes and 55 seconds, took only two shots and was a minus 1. Other than those two shots, he was basically invisible and didn’t help his team much at all. Not being able to play in that kind of game is a hard pill to swallow but at 25 years old, he has many more years of hockey left in front of him (God willing) and, in my opinion, was too risky a chance. But it’s his career, his body, and his choice but it still gets you put on the list.

Your Pittsburgh Penguins are the Eastern Conference Champions. It’s time to Slay the Sharks!

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

ECF Game 7 Recap: Finals Bound! Pens Win 2-1 Thriller

11:04:00 PM 0

In a remarkable turnaround from where the Penguins found themselves after promoting Mike Sullivan from Wilkes-Barre to man the bench, Pittsburgh is going back to the Stanley Cup Finals after they were able to hold on against the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2-1 Game 7 win. Bryan Rust had both goals for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray was solid in stopping 16 of Tampa's 17 shots. The game followed a similar pattern to Game 6, during which Pittsburgh dominated the first 40 minutes before hanging on for the last 20. But in the end, it was a great team effort to keep the Bolts from pulling even, and it leaves them 4 wins away from winning the franchise's 4th Stanley Cup Championship.

It was a fast paced start to the game that saw both teams pushing the action, but even still it took until over five minutes into the period before the first shot on goal would be recorded. And not long after, the Lightning would get the first power play of the game as Evgeni Malkin was called for interference on Ondrej Palat in the Pittsburgh zone. It was a bit of a weak call to kick off the penalties in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, as Malkin didn't catch him very hard and Palat went down very easily. However, the refs would even things up moments later when they sent off Brian Boyle for slashing Nick Bonino, and the teams would play 4-on-4.

Neither was able to take advantage of the open ice though, and the teams would resume even strength play around the midpoint of the 1st period. And as the period progressed, the Penguins would continue to get more and more aggressive on the forecheck, and they did a good job of disrupting the Tampa Bay breakout and regaining control of the puck. Things would continue to go back and forth, but neither team was able to get the upper hand of the other, and they entered the first intermission still scoreless.

That would change quickly in the 2nd period though, as Chris Kunitz found a streaking Bryan Rust entering the Lightning zone, and no Tampa defender picked him up before he ripped a shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy's glove to give the Pens the 1-0 lead. Moments later, Ian Cole and Cedric Paquette would take coincidental roughing minors after Cole elbowed Paquette after the play, and Paquette responded by throwing punches. Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel would create some great chances for the Penguins playing together on the ensuing 4-on-4, but they wouldn't be able to get the puck past Vasilevskiy to extend their lead.

5-on-5 play would resume, and the Pens would continue driving play as they looked to build upon their lead. But despite the multitude of chances and pressure that Pittsburgh was generating, they weren't able to increase their lead, and it would be Jonathan Drouin ripping a shot top shelf after cutting across the zone to tie the game 1-1. It could've been a back breaking blow for a team that had been thoroughly dominating play with nothing to show for it, but 30 seconds later it would be Rust again poking the puck into the net around the crease for his second of the game to make it 2-1 Penguins.

Minutes later, Ryan Callahan would head to the penalty box after high sticking Ben Lovejoy as the Bolts possessed the puck, and it would give the Pens a power play opportunity to further take control of the game. In a bit of a departure from their typical man advantage, Pittsburgh wouldn't have any problems firing the puck on the net, and despite several great chances, including Sheary on the doorstep with Victor Hedman blocking the wide open net, they weren't able to convert, and Callahan would leave the box to even the play up.

Not long after Callahan got out of the box, Drouin would go in himself after he held Tom Kuhnhackl's stick as Kuhnhackl attempted to pull away for a breakaway. But before they had a chance to get anything going, Kris Letang was called for tripping Palat in the Pittsburgh zone, and again the teams would play 4-on-4. Hagelin and Bonino nearly teamed up for another goal with the extra ice, but the puck would trickle wide of the Lightning net. Seconds before Drouin was to be released, Hedman two-handed Malkin's stick in the corner, breaking his own and drawing a slashing penalty in the process. Kessel would have a golden opportunity on the ensuing power play, albeit on a very difficult play to make, as an errant shot came to him off the left post with the net wide open, but he wasn't able to settle down the puck and get a shot off.

The horn would sound to send the teams back to their locker rooms for the second intermission, and the Lightning would need to perform a task for a second time that no other team was able to accomplish this season - beat the Penguins as they entered the 3rd period with a lead. Like in Game 6, Tampa Bay would begin the 3rd period doing a better job controlling possession than they did in the first 40 minutes. Bonino would hobble off the ice early in the period after blocking a shot, but he would later return.

Bryan Rust would nearly get the hat trick after Letang gave him a nifty pass to spring him for the breakaway, but he lifted the puck over the crossbar, and though he would get a couple more good chances on that possession Vasilevskiy was able to shut the door. It would continue to be a busy period in the Pittsburgh zone, but the Penguins would receive a gift midway through the period: Kucherov wristed a puck over the glass from the left boards in the Tampa zone, giving the refs a penalty that they had no choice but to call and a power play for the Pens. They wouldn't get the insurance marker, and Brian Boyle nearly tied the game up as he pulled past Letang to drive the net, but Matt Murray did a great job sticking his right pad out to knock the puck away.

The game would continue to tilt towards the Pittsburgh zone deep into the 3rd period, with the Penguins looking to chip the puck out at any chance and the Lightning pressing to get a second goal on the boards. The Lightning would pull Vasilevskiy with roughly a minute and a half left in regulation, and that's when things would get interesting. The Pens would appear to be in a position for an odd man rush to materialize, but Bonino would inexplicably shoot for the net shortly after crossing the Pittsburgh blue line, and the play would come back to the Penguin zone after the icing. Then, with seconds left, Hagelin appeared to ice the game with an empty net goal. However, it was ruled after the play that the puck hit Lovejoy on the bench, and the goal would come off the board. Regardless, the Pens were able to win the faceoff and tie up the puck along the boards to seal the Eastern Conference Championship.
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ECF Game 7 Preview: vs Tampa Bay Lightning - May 26, 2016

4:08:00 PM 0

Pittsburgh Penguins (11-6) at Tampa Bay Lightning (11-5)
May 26, 2016 @ 8:00 PM - Consol Energy Center
TV: NBC Sports Network
Series Tied 3-3

The Eastern Conference Championship comes down to this - one game, one night, potentially one play that could decide whether the Pittsburgh Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning advance to the Stanley Cup Finals to face the San Jose Sharks. It's a series that's seen wild changes in momentum back and forth; the Pens seemed ready to cruise after taking a 2-1 series lead in Game 3, and a second straight SCF seemed inevitable for the Lightning after winning Game 5 to go up 3-2. Even Pittsburgh's Game 6 victory to extend the series featured a wild change in momentum. The Penguins started off strong with a 3-0 through two periods, but a bad bounce of Phil Kessel's stick helped propel Tampa Bay to a wild finish that seemed destined for overtime until Bryan Rust's breakaway goal effectively ended the comeback.

Much has been made of Sidney Crosby's playoff production in recent weeks, but he's rebounded nicely after managing just 2 assists in 6 games against the Washington Capitals. Crosby has 5 points (3g, 2a) through the first 6 games of the series, including all 3 game winning goals for the Penguins. Even with the off series vs Washington, he's still 3rd on the team in playoff scoring with 15 points (6g, 9a) in 17 games, and he's not the reason why the Penguins are facing a second straight elimination game despite the hot takes from the punditry trying to claim just that.

Some credit has to go the Lightning themselves, especially the Triplet Line of Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson. Kucherov (2g, 5a) and Palat (2g, 4a) are the top two scorers for the Bolts this series, while Johnson (3g, 1a) finds himself 3rd in that category and 2nd on the team only behind Kucherov for the 2016 playoffs with 17 points. Jon Cooper has reunited the 3 at times this series when Tampa has needed offense, and they've been able to deliver.

Also having themselves big postseasons are a pair of players with something to prove. Phil Kessel was driven out of Toronto following a turbulent tenure with the Maple Leafs that saw all the team's problems placed on his shoulders, but he's the leading scorer for the Penguins with 9 goals and 9 assists, showing that he can indeed be a key piece to a championship contender. On the Lightning side, much has been expected from Jonathan Drouin since the team took him 3rd overall in 2013, but the team has had him on an extremely slow development path that saw him demoted to the AHL midseason and then suspended after refusing to play. Forced into action due to an injury to captain Steven Stamkos, Drouin has treated the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a coming out party, registering 4 goals and 9 assists in 16 games, including 4 points (3g, 1a) in the conference finals.

But if Pittsburgh is going to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals, they'll need to come out controlling the play early like they did in Game 6 and for large stretches of the series, and it certainly wouldn't hurt if the goaltending remained status quo on both sides from the previous game. Andrei Vasilevskiy has had a strong series in relief of Ben Bishop, at times single handedly keeping the Lightning in games they had no business sticking around in, but he didn't have his best outing as the Pens managed to put 4 goals behind him on 34 shots. Likewise, Matt Murray rebounded nicely a game after sitting for Marc-Andre Fleury, stopping 29 of the 31 shots against in getting the win, including 17 of 19 in a hectic 3rd period that saw the Bolts make a frantic push to tie the game. Goaltending and the defensive turnovers/breakdowns that have challenged the netminders has been a huge reason this series will play a seventh game, and if Pittsburgh can neutralize the advantage Tampa has enjoyed in net up to this point, they'll have a good chance to clinch the series and move on.

Projected Lines


- With a win in Game 6, Matt Murray became just the 3rd goaltender to reach 10 postseason wins before hitting that mark in the regular season, joining Ken Dryden (1971) and Mike Vernon (1986).

- Sidney Crosby is just the 2nd player in team history to record 3 game winning goals in a series, and he now ranks 3rd all time on the franchise list with 9 playoff GWGs behind only Jaromir Jagr (14) and Mario Lemieux (11).
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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Nailing It Down by @Medina_Marie17

2:30:00 PM 0

No team in ECHL history has overcome a 3-2 series deficit on the road to advance to the championship round. Not one team. Let that sink in. The odds of the Wheeling Nailers doing just that were not in their favor. But, then again, everyone loves an underdog.

With their backs against the wall and facing elimination, it took (yet another) overtime miracle goal scored by Jarrett Burton for the Nailers to force a Game 7.

Now, for the first time since 1993, the Wheeling Nailers are the ECHL Eastern Conference Champions. The “Bad Boys from the Wheel” are now headed to the Kelly Cup Finals after eliminating the South Carolina Stingrays 5-2.

The scoring started out early with a John McCarron wrister and a tying, tip in goal from the ‘Rays forward David Pacan. Cody Wydo would briefly pull the Nailers ahead 2-1 after taking his own rebound and putting it behind the ‘Rays goalie. But with 1:40 left in the first period, Brent Stern would take a cross-checking penalty that would result in the tying goal (scored by ‘Rays Austin Fyten).

The score would go unchanged until the third period.

The Nailers came out in the third period with their pants on fire. After a Jeff Burton tie-breaker, the Nailers cranked up the NOS and never looked in the rear view. Kwas and Loney would score shortly after, nailing down the victory, the conference championship, and a trip to play for the Kelly Cup.

“Pure resiliency. The East is ours, I guess. Unbelievable group of guys. That locker room, you can’t beat it”. – Riley Brace

The Nailers will now face the defending ECHL Champions, the Allen Americans (an affiliate of the San Jose Sharks).

The reaction from the Nailers fan base as well as their own players took over social media. #NailItDown was trending on Twitter and NBC Sports even acknowledged the win during the Pittsburgh Penguins Game 6 broadcast.

Having won on the road, the team made their way back to Wheeling and received a hero’s welcome from Nailer Nation as they pulled into WesBanco Arena. Cheers of support and celebration filled the streets as the team made their way off the bus, hugging fans and slapping high 5’s all the way.

One more series remains. A series that will begin on the road. This team has proven, above anything else that they deserve to be playing for the championship. Four wins remain.

Congratulations to the Wheeling Nailers. Go get that Cup. And for a special treat, here is the (un)official Wheeling Nailers theme/fight song for you all to have stuck in your heads the remainder of the day. Here is "Shane Washes On":
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