We’ve arrived at the final and penultimate battle for Lord Stanley’s cup — seven games (or less) to determine one NHL champion. As expected, the Pittsburgh Penguins emerged victorious in the Eastern conference, although it went down to the wire and required two goals from rookie Bryan Rust in game seven to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning in a grueling series. The Sharks were also favored in the Western conference, but their series was far from a blowout either, requiring six games before they finally put the St. Louis Blues away with a decisive 5-2 win in front of a raucous crowd at the “shark tank” SAP Center in San Jose, California. Game one of the finals drops the puck at center ice tonight at 8:05 PM ET in the confines of the Consol Energy Arena of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Given they have the home ice advantage it’s not terribly surprising that the Penguins are a money line favorite at -145, with the opposing Sharks a narrow +125 dog (dogfish shark?) in hostile territory. The Pens keep that narrow margin on the books if you extend the finals all the way out over seven games, coming in as the -135 favorite while the Sharks are an even narrower +115 dog over that span. Perhaps it was only natural that two teams who fought, sweat and bled all over the ice to be here would be so closely matched in the eyes of both the odds makers and the fans. Neither was a #1 seed nor an overall favorite to be here. The #2 seeded Penguins had to beat the powerhouse Washington Capitals just to advance to the conference finals and that took six games, let alone the seven they just skated with the Lightning. In retrospect the only break they got was playing the #3 seeded New York Rangers in the opening round — they were able to close that series out in five. With that famous HBK line — Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel it seems like they always find the will to win in the end no matter how long it takes. Captain and fan favorite Sidney Crosby will hope to lead Pittsburgh to their their first taste of champagne from the cup since 2009. These Sharks aren’t skating with their tail tucked between their collective legs though. They’ve overcome the odds along the way, emerging from being a #3 seed in the Western conference to record upsets over their in-state hockey rivals in the L.A. Kings as well as the aforementioned Blues. Much like their opponent the only easy series they had was an opening round in five – there’s been no easy skate for either side. If you look at who deserves to be in a NHL final for the biggest prize in all of hockey, captain Joe Pavelski and his squad have definitely earned it. He’s also got 13 postseason goals so if Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray are out of position he can put one in the net quick. Both teams play gritty tough hockey but these Sharks have a very explosive bite. As always when reading these betting previews please remember they are for entertainment purposes only. If you wager please bet only what you can afford to lose. Enjoy the NHL finals!
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