Jones, Murray lack experience heading into Stanley Cup final

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – There’s a lot you’re not going to find when it comes to the two starting goaltenders in this Stanley Cup final. The first is body fat. Both Matt Murray and Martin Jones can give Ryan Miller a run for his money in the skinny-as-a-rail sweepstakes. Another is bravado. Not a lot of boasting with these fellows. But the most prominent thing missing from this duo is experience.

Going into the playoffs this spring, Jones and Murray had a combined 112 games of NHL experience, with the vast majority of that (99 games) going to Jones. You have to go back 30 years to find two Stanley Cup final starters with less combined experience than these two guys. Back in the 1986 final, Patrick Roy led the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup after just 48 games of NHL work and faced Mike Vernon in the final, who had played just 21 games for the Calgary Flames prior to the playoffs that year.

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Five unsung heroes who helped the Sharks, Penguins to the Stanley Cup final

Jared Clinton
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Patrick Marleau (Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Regardless of the outcome of the Stanley Cup final, Penguins winger Bryan Rust’s Game 7 performance will be remembered in Pittsburgh for years to come.

Rust, a 24-year-old mid-season call up, scored the opening goal in Game 7 and then netted the game-winner on an ugly side of the net jam play shortly after the Tampa Bay Lightning scored the game-tying goal. Those were his fourth and fifth goals of the post-season, and they came two days following his Game 6 insurance goal that sealed that victory for the Penguins.

But because of his Game 7 contributions, Rust isn’t exactly what one would call an unsung hero. Nor is someone like San Jose Sharks winger Joel Ward, who would have been a shoo-in for this list had he not scored four goals in the final two games of the Western Conference final. There are still five players who should be getting more credit, though: Read more

How the Mike Sullivan effect turned the Penguins into playoff bullies

Mike Sullivan and Sidney Crosby. (Photo by Jason Behnken/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins have become the schoolyard bullies of these Stanley Cup playoffs, and not in the traditional sense. You won’t see this team dropping mitts with reckless abandon. Their opponents don’t come down with the CONSOL Energy Center Flu, as traumatized teams used to every time they visited the Philadelphia Spectrum in the mid-1970s.

No, these Penguins are a different kind of bully. They tilt the ice to what feels like a 45-degree angle and cram puck after puck after puck down their opponents’ throats. They are the modern incarnation of an intimidator: the analytics version, pelting opponents with shot attempts.

Per war-on-ice.com, The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the NHL’s best possession teams, ranking sixth in score-adjusted Corsi percentage, and the Penguins made Tampa look like the exact opposite. The Corsi (shot attempt) margins for Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference final:

Game 1: 71-40
Game 2: 69-44
Game 3: 78-50
Game 4: 65-48
Game 5: 54-56
Game 6: 55-60
Game 7: 64-42

The Penguins controlled the possession game five times in the series. They kept their foot on Tampa’s throat regardless of the score. Instead of going into a defensive shell with a lead in the third period of Game 7, Pittsburgh outshot Tampa 10-7. The margin was 39-17 overall.

How does Pittsburgh seemingly put every opponent, even the offensively elite Washington Capitals in Round 2, back on its heels? The straightforward answer is speed. The Conor Sheary-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line skates. The HBK line, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, really skates. The Chris Kunitz-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust line skates. Fleet-footed Rust put daggers in the Bolts’ hearts in Games 6 and 7. The D-corps, from Kris Letang to Olli Maatta, skates. But it’s more than that. This team’s personality changed completely Dec. 12, 2015, when coach Mike Sullivan took over. They ranked 20th in 5-on-5 score adjusted Corsi and 28th in goals per game at the time of coach Mike Johnston’s firing. Sullivan came in, and the Pens were second only to the Los Angeles Kings for the rest of the season in 5-on-5 score-adjusted Corsi. It seems Sullivan unlocked or unshackled this team.

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World Cup Power Rankings: Take a wild guess who’s No. 1

Sidney Crosby  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Now that the rosters for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ have been finalized, we can now set about to devoting our energies to predicting everything that’s going to happen. After all, the tournament is only four months away and time is of the essence.

With that said, here’s our stab at World Cup of Hockey Power Rankings. Remember, these are Power Rankings and have no bearing on how a team will finish, so stop it with the hate mail and nasty tweets just because your team didn’t do well in this little exercise. That goes double for all you Team Europe fans out there, all three of you.

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Bryan Rust plays the hero, provides depth Penguins needed to break through

Steven Stamkos (left) and Bryan Rust  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

For a guy with such blinding speed, Bryan Rust sure took his time becoming a big-time hero. And that’s exactly what he is, perhaps Notre Dame’s most unlikely hero since Daniel Ruettiger.

Four years at Notre Dame, a couple of years in the minors and no full-time NHL work until about five months ago. But that did not prevent Rust from being the Game 7 hero of the Eastern Conference final in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. And more yet may be to come, because if the Penguins are going to emerge victorious over the San Jose Sharks in the final, they’re going to need the kind of speed that Rust brings to the game.

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Stamkos in for Game 7 – but will it be his last with the Lightning?

Steven Stamkos (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has not played an NHL game in 55 days, is in the lineup for his team’s most important game of the season tonight in Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It should not come as a huge surprise that Stamkos is ready to play. When he was diagnosed with a blood clot near his right collarbone, it was expected he would be out of the Tampa lineup anywhere between one and three months. Playing on the second line between Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan, Stamkos gives the Lightning an enormous emotional lift.

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NHL taking a bullet for NBC Sports by cancelling Tampa viewing party

Amalie Arena  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

There’s one thing you have to keep in mind when it comes to this public relations debacle surrounding the cancellation of tonight’s viewing party in Tampa for Game 7 between the Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins. And that is that the NHL is not the bad guy here. The league is basically taking a bullet for its broadcast partner, NBC Sports.

Think about it. Why would the league want to deter thousands of people from assembling in one place to celebrate their team’s playoff run and create a sense of community among fans that no amount of money can buy, unless it was being forced to do so? The truth is, the NHL would love it, absolutely love it, if every team in the playoffs held public gatherings for each one of their playoff games. It creates a buzz around the team and the product that is immeasurable. The days of Bill Wirtz not putting the Chicago Blackhawks home games on television passed a long time ago.

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Watch Boyle pick corner for second goal of Game 6, blow kiss to Lightning bench

Jared Clinton
Brian Boyle (via NHL.com)

If Brian Boyle hadn’t already shown his worth to the Tampa Bay Lightning in terms of being a checking-line center, he’s showing this post-season that he also has the ability to make things happen offensively and that he can even add a little flair.

In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final, the Lightning were trailing 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into the final frame. Tampa Bay carried the play from the outset of the third period in an attempt to get anything going offensively, and eventually it was Boyle who would break through, although fortuitously as his shot from the right wing boards would deflect off of Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel and into the net.

But for as lucky as Boyle’s first goal was, his second tally made Boyle look like a bonafide sniper. Again on the right wing, Boyle managed to pick up a bouncing puck that was thrown cross-ice by defenseman Slater Koekkoek, settle it and fire home a seeing-eye shot that went perfectly into the top corner. And then Boyle gave us the best celebration of the post-season, blowing a kiss to the Tampa Bay bench. Seriously: Read more