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Stanley Cup Final

5 Keys: Pittsburgh Penguins, Game 1

Murray's composure among factors critical to success in Stanley Cup Final opener

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks open the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Here are 5 keys for the Penguins in Game 1:

1. BREAKOUTS

Pittsburgh's breakouts have been a key to its success throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have allowed the Penguins to have strong possession numbers, particularly in the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning (55.0 percent SAT, according to war-on-ice.com).

The Sharks, though, will likely pose the biggest challenge to the Penguins in this area of the game. San Jose likes to swarm on the forecheck by hounding the puck carrier and forcing him to make a play before a play is there to make. They pressure and try to outnumber the puck carrier.

"They're big and most of their forwards have really good sticks, so it's important for us to move the pucks quick," Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "We've got to get back to them first. They're guys that like to get in there first and try to make plays. They're good at finding each other, so the quicker that we can get in there and find the puck the better."

Video: Crosby on team speed factor in Stanley Cup Final

2. SPEED THROUGH THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Once the Penguins break out of the zone, provided they do it cleanly, they can get to their speed game and put the Sharks on their heels. 

San Jose will have to contest with speedy wings like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, which should, in theory, give the Penguins the chance to get through the neutral zone by forcing the Sharks to have to back up their coverage.

"As long as we're all on the same page that's when we look fast, whether that's chip it out and go or just making quick ups," Hagelin said. "When we're playing at our best we're doing all the small things the right way. That involves chasing down pucks."

3. MATT MURRAY

Rookie goalie Matt Murray has shown remarkable resiliency for a 22-year-old going through the playoffs for the first time. His poise and control have been lauded by his teammates and coach Mike Sullivan for three rounds. 

It's unlikely Murray will get caught up in the moment of the Stanley Cup Final, but how he handles Game 1 will still be something to watch because of his age and inexperience.

Murray is 11-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in the playoffs, including a 4-0 record and .929 save percentage in games after a loss. 

He was replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5 against the Lightning, and seemed better for it when he returned to the net for Game 6. He won each of Pittsburgh's must-win games with a combined 44 saves on 47 shots (.936).

"I'm definitely not oblivious to what's going on," Murray said. "I don't think overthinking is going to help more than not thinking about it. I just try to stay in the moment. I say that a lot. It's an intimidating thing sometimes [being in the Cup Final]. Overthinking is not going to help."

Video: Penguins Defenseman Olli Maatta on Media Day

4. OLLI MAATTA

With defenseman Trevor Daley out with a broken left ankle, defenseman Olli Maatta has once again become an important part of the Penguins defense and essential to their success in the Cup Final. 

Maatta returned to playing in a top-four role, paired with Ben Lovejoy, in Game 5 against the Lightning after being a healthy scratch for Games 2, 3 and 4. He played arguably his three best games of the playoffs, and maybe of the entire season, in Games 5, 6 and 7. 

Maatta had three assists and a plus-5 rating while averaging approximately 20 minutes of ice time per game. He was quick with his reads and didn't allow the Lightning's fast forwards get behind him, as he did when Alex Killorn scored Tampa Bay's first goal in Game 1.

"He's a patient hockey player," Daley said. "He makes great plays. He gets the puck out of the zone. He can skate. He can pass. He's got all the intangibles to be a great player. I'm not surprised by the way he's playing. I'm excited for the opportunity that he's going to get."

5. BLOCK SHOTS ON THE PK

Discipline is obviously a key, as it is for any team at any time, but it would be foolish to think the Penguins are going to stay out of the penalty box altogether in the Cup Final. And when they do take penalties, they're going to face one of the top power-play units in the NHL.

The Sharks power play is clicking at 27 percent in the playoffs after finishing third in the regular season at 22.5 percent. Their power play works because they move the puck well, get bodies to the front of the net, and find the shooting lanes to get the puck there for deflections and tips.

One way to stop the Sharks power play is to stop the shot from getting to the net. Easier said than done.

Brent Burns is excellent at getting his shot through and Joe Pavelski is one of the best in the League at getting a stick on the puck in the slot. 

"You always hear about it, even on our power play, we want to establish a shot early on because you never know where that rebound is going to go and it causes teams to open up to respect the shot more," Dumoulin said. "They're a team that definitely does that, so right off faceoffs we've got to be ready for a shot coming to the net. Our forwards are going to have to do a good job of trying to block that shot, but also us defensemen, we're going to have to come back to our net hard and defend the front of it hard."

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