Returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins are favored to beat the San Jose Sharks for their fourth title and open the best-of-seven series with a victory in Game 1 Monday night.
According to Sportsbook.ag, Pittsburgh enters the series as -135 favorites, with San Jose a slim +115 underdog. With the two sides first clashing at CONSOL Energy Center, the Penguins are -150 favorites and the Sharks stand at +130 for Game 1.
The spread and over/under for Game 1 is a testament to both how evenly matched these two teams appear to be to oddsmakers, as well as how well each has played during the postseason. Pittsburgh’s a 1.5-goal favorite and the over/under is currently 5.5 goals.
The Sharks boast the playoffs top three points leaders in forwards Logan Couture (24) and Joe Pavelski (22), and defenseman Brent Burns (20) with Pavelski leading all players with 13 goals followed by Couture with eight.
But the Penguins are equally stacked and distribute the puck just as well as San Jose. Phil Kessel’s tallied a third-best nine goals while Sidney Crosby’s added six more, and center Nick Bonino’s assisted 12 and Evgeni Malkin 11.
It also doesn’t bode well for oddsmakers or prospective bettors that these two squads split their season series. When they first met on Nov. 21, Burns fired off two goals and Patrick Marleau recorded his 1,000th career point in a 3-1 victory on Pittsburgh’s home ice.
The Penguins would responded 10 nights later with a 5-1 victory, their first in San Jose since 1997, with Kessel scoring twice and Malkin once, while veteran keeper Marc-Andre Fleury recorded 33 saves.
Except now in the finals, the Penguins will likely go with rookie Matt Murray over Fleury, who went 16-8 in Pittsburgh’s run for the Cup in 2009. Murray’s played quite well this postseason, earning an 11-4 record, 2.22 goals-against average ,and .924 save percentage over 15 starts, though Fleury did start over him in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals after Murray had a poor showing in Game 4.
San Jose’s exclusively used Martin Jones for all 18 of its playoff games. Now in his third season, Jones leads all keepers with 12 victories and among goalies who have appeared in at least 11 playoff games this year, Jones is third with a 2.12 goals-against average.
Prediction: This could shake out as one of the best Cup finals of recent memory. Neither team has an especially hot goaltender, but each possesses tremendous depth up and down each of their lines and their attacks are almost equally matched. San Jose’s Couture and Pavelski matchup quite well with Pittsburgh’s Kessel and Crosby, and we should expect several back-and-forth games that likely head to overtime.
Overall, this series comes down to who has the better penalty kill. And right now the Penguins have killed 83.6 percent of opponents power plays, compared to San Jose’s 80.4. It’s obviously a very slim margin, but these teams are just that close.
Pittsburgh in 7