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Penguins' Letang prepared to face Sharks' top line

Pittsburgh defenseman will play Game 1 after taking maintenance day

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

Game 1: SHARKS at PENGUINS

Stanley Cup Final

TV: 8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang is expected to play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Monday.

Letang was absent for Pittsburgh's optional morning skate Monday, one day after taking a maintenance day, but said he is experiencing no health issues.

Forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also were absent from the skate. 

Letang is preparing to face San Jose's top line of Joe Thornton centering left wing Tomas Hertl and right wing Joe Pavelski.

"I think, if you look at it, throughout their lineup they have four lines that bring a lot of speed and skill," Letang said. "Especially that top line, it has bigger forwards that can protect the puck well."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is confident Letang, whose average of 28:46 of ice time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs leads all players in the Final, will have no problem playing his usual minutes. Letang's availability presents a matchup between two of the NHL's more explosive defensemen; the Sharks' Brent Burns has six goals and 20 points in 18 playoff games. 

"[Burns] is a big part of our team, for sure," San Jose forward Joel Ward said. "He means a lot … Penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5."

After missing the Penguins' previous two practices, forward Nick Bonino participated in their morning skate. He temporarily left Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday after blocking a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin.

"I'm just getting ready to go," Bonino said. "Everybody's running on fumes. It was a long series and it was nice to have those [three] days off. … Those days where you can recover always come up big. It helps teams that are injured get guys back from injury, and it helps guys that are banged up and playing through stuff to recover a little bit more."

Bonino has centered Pittsburgh's most offensively efficient line throughout the first three rounds of the playoffs. The "HBK Line" of Bonino between left wing Carl Hagelin and right wing Kessel has scored 17 playoff goals.

Kessel leads Pittsburgh with 18 points and nine goals in 18 playoff games.

"Phil's been very receptive all year long," Sullivan said. "I think he's made great strides over the last couple months … I think his offense speaks for itself and we try to stay out of the way when he has the puck. He certainly has way better instincts than the coaching staff does."

Sharks forward Matt Nieto likely will miss Game 1. He has not played since sustaining an upper-body injury on May 9 and remained on the ice after most of his teammates left the Sharks' morning skate.

"When Nieto came out because of an injury, [forward Tommy] Wingels jumped in and did a great job," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "If Nieto is healthy, then we have some decisions to make. We've got a nice mix of guys down there that all bring different things."

Wingels has two goals in 16 playoff games. He last scored in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues.

Here are the projected lineups:

SHARKS

Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Joonas Donskoi

Melker Karlsson - Chris Tierney - Joel Ward

Dainius Zubrus - Nick Spaling - Tommy Wingels

Paul Martin - Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon - Roman Polak

Martin Jones

James Reimer

Injured: Matt Nieto (upper body)

Scratched: Micheal Haley, Dylan DeMelo, Matt Tennyson

PENGUINS

Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust

Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel

Tom Kuhnhackl - Matt Cullen - Eric Fehr

Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang

Olli Maatta - Ben Lovejoy

Ian Cole - Justin Schultz

Matt Murray

Marc-Andre Fleury

Injured: Kevin Porter (ankle surgery), Scott Wilson (lower body), Trevor Daley (ankle)

Scratched: Jeff Zatkoff, Derrick Pouliot, Oskar Sundqvist, Beau Bennett, Kael Mouillierat, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Daniel Sprong, Tim Erixon, Josh Archibald, Dominik Simon, Steve Oleksy, Tristan Jarry

Status report: Daley, who broke his left ankle in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, said he is not ruling out playing in the Stanley Cup Final, but it remains unlikely he'll return.  … Zubrus will skate in Nieto's place on the fourth line if Nieto is out.

Who's hot: Rust scored each of Pittsburgh's goals in its 2-1 Game 7 win against the Lightning in the conference final last Thursday. He has scored two goals in two of the Penguins' three elimination games this postseason. … Pavelski has scored 12 points and seven goals in his past nine games. He leads San Jose with 13 goals, five more than Couture. 

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