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Conference Final

10 things to know about the conference finals

Thornton's beard, play of Malkin and Crosby, Stamkos' possible return all third-round storylines

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Twelve teams down, four still standing, all dreaming of lifting the Stanley Cup next month and celebrating with it all summer.

The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs have moved to the conference final stage, and it's time for a primer as you gear up for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues begins at Scottrade Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Here are 10 things you should know heading into the conference finals:


The Blues and Sharks will be meeting for the fifth time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but each previous meeting took place in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. They split those previous four series, with the Sharks winning in 2000 and 2004, and the Blues in 2001 and 2012.

Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has been involved in every one of the St. Louis-San Jose playoff matchups. He appeared in one game in the 2000 series and every game since.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Marleau finishes two-on-one rush

The Lightning and Penguins are meeting in the playoffs for the second time; Tampa Bay won in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2011. Pittsburgh had a 3-1 series lead but lost the last three games.

Pittsburgh centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin did not play in that series. Crosby was out because of a concussion and Malkin missed the playoffs that year because of a knee injury.


Crosby and Malkin were, for the most part, held off the scoresheet in Pittsburgh's six-game win against the Washington Capitals in the second round. Malkin had a goal and an assist in the first two games, but nothing after. Crosby had no goals and two assists in the series.

The odds of the same thing happening against the Lightning are slim, at least based on history. Malkin and Crosby are the Penguins' top two all-time scorers against the Lightning in the regular season. Malkin is the leader with 42 points and is second with 19 goals in 31 games against Tampa Bay. Crosby is second with 41 points and third with 14 goals in 31 games.

Malkin has points in 12 straight games against the Lightning; he has 13 goals and 28 points during that streak. He had two assists in his lone game against them this season. Crosby has points in 11 of his past 13 games against the Tampa Bay, with 25 points in that span.


One of the great things about attending a St. Louis Blues game at Scottrade Center is the pregame entertainment from Charles Glenn, a local musician who has been singing the national anthem at Blues games for more than a decade and has been an opening act for renowned artists such as Smokey Robinson, Huey Lewis and the News and the Allman Brothers, according to his website.

Video: Charles Glenn keeps an old tradition alive

The television broadcast will show Glenn singing the anthem from time to time, but what they won't show is his rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In," which instead features the words "When the Blues Go Marching In."

It's a must-see performance at every Blues home game. St. Louis fans no doubt hope his words "Oh when the Cup comes to St. Loo, right down Market Street in old St. Loo," come true this season.


The Penguins seem to have themselves a celebrity fan in Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe, who took to Twitter to show his allegiance to Pittsburgh's hockey team by tweeting "Penguins !!!!" after they clinched their berth in the Eastern Conference Final.

Crowe has shot movies in Pittsburgh and called himself a Penguins' fan since 1998 during an interview he did with Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA in 2009.

The Lightning have a celebrity fan in Tampa Bay resident and ESPN college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale, who two years ago was honored by the Lightning as part of their Community Hero program.

So there you have it, the oddest of celebrity duels: Crowe vs. Vitale. Who wins? Maximus from "Gladiator" or Dickie V. from ESPN?


Is he or isn't he? Lightning fans want to know. Penguins fans want to know. too. All the players and coaches in the Eastern Conference Final want to know.

Is Lightning captain Steven Stamkos going to play in the series?

Nobody seems to know yet, not even Stamkos, who had surgery on April 4 to remove a blood clot near his collarbone. He is practicing and skating with the "Black Aces" as a way to stay in shape, but he remains out because he is on blood thinners and has not been cleared for contact.

So we wait. Maybe one of these days he'll get hit in practice and the hockey world's axis will shift. Or maybe the Lightning will continue to win without him, as they have done in eight of their 10 games in the playoffs so far.


The Sharks never have made the Stanley Cup Final in their 25-year history. The Blues haven't been there since 1970. To put that into context, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer was not even 2 years old when the Blues last got to the Cup Final. DeBoer will turn 48 on June 13.

So the Western Conference Final will yield something new -- the chance for a franchise hungry for a championship to play for one.

This is the first time the Blues have made the conference final since 2001, when they lost in five games to the Colorado Avalanche. They were there in 1986, when they lost to the Calgary Flames in seven games.

The Sharks are in the conference final for the fourth time since 2004, but are 3-12 in this round. They last made it in 2011, when they lost in five games against the Vancouver Canucks. They were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and lost in six games to the Flames in 2004.


The Western Conference Final has a different kind of celebrity battle going on. It's feline vs. Mad Man, "Jo Paw-velski" vs. Jon Hamm.

"Jo Paw-velski" is the team-given nickname of the black cat that found her way through the bench and onto the ice at SAP Center before Game 1 of the second round against the Nashville Predators. The Sharks won the game 5-2, crushing the theory that black cats are bad luck.

The cat now is being cared for by Humane Society Silicon Valley, which is trying to find a permanent home for her. Of course, she has her own Twitter handle, @SharksBlackCat, with more than 650 followers as of Friday.

Hamm, of "Mad Men" fame, is a St. Louis native and longtime Blues fan. He, by the way, doesn't have a Twitter account.


Sharks center Joe Thornton has a playoff beard for the ages, an all-timer that has at least one more round to grow and become an even greater piece of artwork. The length, the thickness, the gray down the middle, from chin out, makes it unique and special and should be admired.

Video: Postgame 5/12: Thornton

The only problem is Thornton apparently has cheated on his playoff beard. He started growing it in December, according to a story in The Globe and Mail last month. Then again, that was right around the time the Sharks' chase for a playoff berth started, so it kind of makes sense.

San Jose was 14-14-1 after a 2-0 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 12. Thornton had 16 points in those 29 games. The beard started, and so too did his game.

As Thornton's beard grew, so did the Sharks' fortunes. They went 32-16-5 in their last 53 games with Thornton contributing 66 points, including at least one in each of the wins. He has 11 points in 12 playoff games, including eight in seven games against Nashville. And entering the conference final, his beard remains epic.


Sharks defenseman Brent Burns has 15 points, two behind teammate and League leader Logan Couture, who had three points in Game 7 against the Predators on Thursday to give him 17 points.

A defenseman hasn't won the playoff scoring title outright since 1994, when Brian Leetch had 34 points to lead the New York Rangers to the championship. Scott Niedermayer's 18 points in 2003 tied New Jersey Devils teammate Jamie Langenbrunner for the most in the playoffs.

Burns, who didn't have a point in Game 7, has four goals and 11 assists in 12 games. He had seven points in seven games against Nashville after he had eight points in five games against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.

Burns had one assist in three regular-season games against the Blues. He has 22 points in 37 career games against St. Louis.


It's too early to compare Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray to Montreal Canadiens great and Hockey Hall of Fame member Ken Dryden. But if Murray wins one more round, the comparison will be on and it will be legit.

Murray, at 21 years old and with 13 regular-season NHL games on his resume prior to the start of the playoffs, is 7-2 with a .935 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average since taking over as the starting goalie in Game 3 of the first round against the New York Rangers.

Dryden came into the 1971 playoffs as a 23-year-old having played six regular-season NHL games. But he led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup, going 12-8 with a 3.00 GAA and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. It was the first of his six Stanley Cup championships.

All Murray has to do now is make sure he's the starter for Game 1 of the conference final Friday instead of Marc-Andre Fleury.

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