Three duels that could decide the Stanley Cup Finals


The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday when the Pittsburgh Penguins welcome the San Jose Sharks to the Consol Energy Center.

It is a matchup of two strikingly similar, high-intensity teams whose histories could hardly be more different.

While the Penguins will be competing in their fifth Finals - having won on three occasions - it is the Sharks' first appearance in the season-ending series.

The two regular-season games between the pair were split, but here we look at three key battles likely to prove pivotal in separating the teams over a seven-game series.


Matt Murray v Martin Jones 

Both teams boast prolific and high-scoring forward lines, but the two starting goaltenders will have a similarly decisive outcome on the destination of the Stanley Cup.

Murray was still in the minor-league AHL this time last year but at the tender age of 22 has been vital in securing games for the Penguins, posting a .924 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average (GAA) in the post-season.

Jones has a slightly better GAA of 2.12 and is also credited with 12 wins to Murray's 11 and three shutouts to the one posted by his rival between the posts.

The 26-year-old Jones - acquired in a trade in June last year - statistically has the edge over Murray and, if that is the case in this series, the Sharks will have a significantly better chance of ending their wait for a maiden title.


Joe Pavelski v Sidney Crosby

The two captains in this series have proven particularly influential in the post-season, each having inspirational impacts on their respective teams.

Crosby of course knows how to win the cup, having done so with the Penguins in the 2008-09 season, and has three game-winning goals to his name this post-season as he attempts to lead Pittsburgh to a fourth title.

But Crosby's 15 play-off points this season are well below that of Pavelski, who has netted 13 goals - a high this post-season - to go with nine assists.

Only team-mate Logan Couture (24 points) can claim to better Pavelski's playoff points haul of 22 and the Sharks skipper will likely need to maintain his prolific form in order for San Jose to make history and ensure Crosby's efforts are in vain.


Sharks power play v Penguins penalty kill

If the Penguins are to have a chance of stopping a red-hot Sharks team from lifting the cup for the first time, then Pittsburgh will have to maintain their strong play on the penalty kill.

Pittsburgh have a penalty kill percentage of 83.6 but the main contributors in that area - namely Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, have a stern challenge on their hands to continue to excel against San Jose's power play.

San Jose's post-season power-play percentage of 27.0 is only bettered by the Chicago Blackhawks (31.6).

If that kind of success continues, it will be very difficult for Pittsburgh to halt San Jose's offensive juggernaut.