When Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach on Dec. 12, the Penguins were 15-10-3 and ranked 28th in scoring. Sidney Crosby needed binoculars to see the league scoring leaders. They finished with the second-best record in the East and Crosby racked up 36 goals and 85 points, third in the NHL. Kessel, who has been ridden out of two towns — Boston and Toronto — and was once picked last in the All-Star game fantasy draft, became the toast of Pittsburgh after teaming with Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino to lift the Penguins past the Lightning. Rookie goalie Matt Murray (2.22 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) has shown remarkable poise. They'll miss defenseman Trevor Daley (broken ankle) but reinforcements from their farm team give them balance and speed everywhere. Kind of like the Sharks. "This is going to be probably some of the fastest hockey that any of us have played, when you look at the two teams and how they match up and how they want to play," Crosby said Sunday.
Debate over the merits of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau used to include a "but," as in, "but they've never reached the Stanley Cup Final." After 1,411 regular-season games and 165 playoff games for Marleau — all with the Sharks — and 1,367 regular-season games and 150 playoff contests for Thornton, that "but" is gone. Pinpoint passer Thornton (15 assists, 18 points) has been clutch. Joe Pavelski, with a playoff-high 13 goals and playoff-best four game-winners, has led by fine example. Defenseman Brent Burns (six goals, 20 points) can roam because Paul Martin capably supports him. They've got speed, size, energy from winger Joel Ward (six goals, 11 points) and steady goaltending from former Kings backup Martin Jones (2.12, .919). These aren't the mentally fragile Sharks who squandered a 3-0 series lead over the Kings in 2014 and missed the playoffs last season. "I feel we have a pretty fast team, a deep team," Burns said. "We're pretty confident in our group and looking forward to getting it going."