Veteran defenseman Brent Burns admitted after the 3-2 loss that the team was feeling a bit overwhelmed to actually be playing in the championship round. That anxiety should subside as the series progresses.
Regardless, both teams reached this point because of outstanding efforts from each player on the roster. We categorized them in three groups:
- Big-timers (players expected to perform well and are);
- Playoff surprises (players who have raised their games);
- Essential pluggers (players who don't get a lot of attention but are key to their team's success).
Below is the breakdown for the Sharks. The Penguins can be found here.
Joe Thornton, C/W: It's about time "Jumbo" reached the finals. His motivation is at an all-time high and his teammates are feeding off that energy.
Joe Pavelski, RW/C: The captain is proving why he wears the "C." His offensive production has been off the charts -- he leads the playoffs in goals -- and there's seemingly no limit to what he can accomplish if he keeps playing the way he has in the postseason.
Logan Couture, C: He has become the perfect second-line center for the Sharks. His point production -- he leads the playoffs in scoring -- has been essential and he has produced at key moments.
Patrick Marleau, LW: While most of the attention is on his teammates, he's quietly producing. He also added a bit of grit to his game.
Brent Burns, D: He has been a monster at both ends of the ice. His ability to play in all three zones has been an intangible. If the Sharks win this series, he will be considered for the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs.
Chris Tierney, C: The 21-year-old has a lot of bite to his game. He's not afraid to get into the dirty areas and create chances. He has produced in pivotal moments and that won't stop as the series progresses.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, D: His point production has been vital. His contributions tend to go unnoticed, but his teammates understand how important he has become to the team's success.
Martin Jones, G: The Sharks don't get here without him. The 26-year-old was excellent in Game 1 despite the loss.
Tomas Hertl, LW: His goal in Game 1 proved why he's so important for the Sharks. The 22-year-old has been an important complementary piece to the team's top line.
Joonas Donskoi, RW: He has shown the ability to strike at the perfect time, and you just know that will happen again in the finals.
Joel Ward, W: The veteran forward's contributions on the third line have been significant.
Paul Martin, D: The veteran has been the perfect partner for Burns. Martin's stay-at-home mentality and solid defensive work have been an integral component to the blue line.
Dainius Zubrus, LW: It seems like the 37-year-old forward has been around forever. Wait, he has been around forever. But his presence has been essential on the fourth line.
Nick Spaling, C: Teams don't reach this point of the season without four solid lines. He has been the cog in the middle of the fourth line.
Tommy Wingels, RW: Similar to Spaling, the Sharks need Wingels' contributions on the fourth unit. He might not score much, but he's dedicated to preventing the opposition from scoring.
Melker Karlsson, LW: He has become a nice fit on the wing with Tierney and Ward. Karlsson has chipped in on the score sheet, too.
Roman Polak, D: Steady. He might not provide the "wow" factor but he gets the job done.
Brenden Dillon, D: When needed, he is a solid third-pairing guy. He's on the verge of significant contributions.
Justin Braun, D: His size and strength have been key factors on the blue line.