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Pittsburgh Penguins face real test hosting red-hot San Jose Sharks

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The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins are two hot teams colliding for the first time since the 2011-12 season Thursday, December 5. Nevertheless, billing it as a Stanley Cup preview is not only tired but overblown.

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As can be seen by the pictured personnel comparisons, both teams have a wealth of talent. Their inability to win in recent Stanley Cup playoffs (Pittsburgh has only won three series since winning it all in 2009—a pinnacle San Jose has never been closer than six wins from reaching. That should temper talk their recent hot streaks have started, especially when neither is even the best team in their conference.

The Penguins have won four in a row to move atop the Eastern Conference, but they have only played six games (3-2-1) against other teams in the top third of the NHL. They also have that one more point in two more games than the Boston Bruins.

Pittsburgh's first win was 6-5 in a shootout at home over the Toronto Maple Leafs, but their next was an impressive win over a worthy Tampa Bay Lightning team even without Steven Stamkos. On the very next night they walloped a bad Florida Panthers team 5-1, and then squeaked out two points at the struggling New York Islanders.

The guests have been more impressive. San Jose's last win was the sixth in a row and ninth in 10 games—a regulation road win over the same Toronto team Pittsburgh needed a big comeback at home to beat in a shootout.

While five of those wins came at home, every game was against a team inside the Stanley Cup playoff picture at the drop of the puck. Three of those games were against top-10 teams in points and percentage—the minimum needed to make the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the Western Conference.

The Sharks have the better record in the tougher Western Conference—half a game up but with one less point in the standings than the Chicago Blackhawks because of two fewer games played. They are 6-2-2 against the rest of the top-10 teams in the NHL and 13-0-1 with Brent Burns in the lineup.

However, they have shown nothing to make anyone believe they can beat Chicago. They have been swept out of their last four games by a combined score of 16-6. They have not won in the Windy City since 2010, and would be the underdog in any series against their Western Conference rival.

Both the Sharks and Penguins are rightly among the leading contenders to make it to the Stanley Cup finals, but there are too many good teams capable of beating either of them. According to the odds offered by Bodog of both teams winning their conference—not even factoring in that they are set to pay out less than they receive—the chance of both teams meeting to end the season is just over five percent.

For now, this should be a game to enjoy. San Jose's foundation is defense, with a strong blue line, good forward support and an anchor in net. Pittsburgh focuses more on the attack, taking advantage of having the two best players in the world at forward.

The contrast should make for good viewing, and the Western Conference will be represented well. The Sharks are 8-1-1 against the Eastern Conference, but need to win this road game in regulation if they are going to win it at all. That would also serve them well with a game the next night in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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