Sixteen wins — that’s what it takes to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, using two goalies and a myriad of players in and out of the lineup, scratched and clawed and when it was all said and done, once again lifted the greatest trophy in all of sports.
Patric Hornqvist’s goal, assisted by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz, broke a scoreless tie with 1:35 remaining in regulation and Carl Hagelin added an empty-net goal 1:21 later while Matt Murray turned aside all 27 shots he faced as the Pittsburgh Penguins shut out the Nashville Predators, 2-0, to clinch the Stanley Cup Finals four-games-to-two.
“It’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said in a postgame interview on CBC. “This was a team effort from the first shift to the last shift. I just got lucky to score the first goal. This was a battle through the whole series. They played really well, but we came up big when we needed it.”
As Lord Stanley was passed from teammate to teammate at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, the Penguins become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat 19 years ago. The triumph mark’s Pittsburgh’s fifth Stanley Cup overall, having also taken home the hardware in 1991, 1992, 2009 and 2016. It is the seventh franchise in NHL history to win back-to-back, but just the second to do it twice joining the Edmonton Oilers which won it all in 1984-1985 and then again in 1987-1998.
Team captain Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy honoring of the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. “Sid the Kid” amassed eight goals and 19 assists, playing in excess of 20 minutes on most nights as the Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators before dispatching Nashville in the finals.
In leading Pittsburgh to the promised land, Crosby joins Wayne Gretzky as the only two players in NHL history to win at least three Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe and two Hart Trophies. Just the seventh player in history to win at least three Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies, the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native joins Jean Beliveau, Mark Messier, Guy Lafleur, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Howie Morenz in the elite fraternity. Crosby, Gretzky and the great Patrick Roy are the only three players to win at least three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Trophies.
“I don’t think about it a lot,” Crosby told NBC Sports after the triumph. “Just to be able to share this with this group of guys is pretty special. (Repeating as champions) was our goal at the start of the year, we knew it hadn’t been done in a long time and to be able to accomplish it is a great feeling.”
The Penguins got it done in a most unconventional way in between the pipes. Utilizing two goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury and Murray, the Penguins did not ride one netminder throughout the playoffs but rather leaned on both goalies en route to glory.
A late regular season injury opened the door for Fleury, who won the first nine games for the Penguins in the playoffs before Murray relieved him in a 5-1 rout against Ottawa in the Eastern Conference finals on May 17. Murray was nothing short of lights out after taking the job back, winning the next seven games to clinch to go along with a playoff-best 1.70 goals-against average and .970 save percentage. After failing to play the minimum number of games last season, Murray is the first “rookie” in NHL history to win two cups.
While Crosby and Murray drew the majority of the spotlight, it was a complete team effort from top to bottom for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin led all scorers in the playoffs with 28 points. Crosby was second with 27 but it was contributions from the likes of Hornqvist (5-4-9), Schultz (4-9-13), Phil Kessel (8-15-23) and rookie Jake Guentzel (13-8-21) who proved to be a revelation. Five of Guentzel’s 13 goals in the playoffs proved to be game-winners.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan, who became head coach of the Penguins on Dec. 12, 2015, becomes the first American-born coach to win two Stanley Cups.
“Sometimes, I’ve got to pinch myself it’s such a privilege to coach in this organization,” Sullivan told NHL Network’s E.J. Hradek after the game. “I just can’t say enough about this group of players we have. They’re so competitive, they play hard for one another, they’re a privilege to coach and I mean that sincerely.”
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 12, 2017
It was a heck of a run for the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators, whom very few had pegged to make the finals let alone win its first-round match-up with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Predators lit up the city, turning Nashville into “Smashville” while injecting hockey into a fanbase that won’t soon forget its improbable run.
“It stings,” Predators defenseman P.K. Subban told CSN Sportsnet after the game. “A lot of emotion, a lot of tears and there should be. Everybody cares. We wanted to lift the cup this year but it didn’t happen. The biggest thing we’ve got to take from this is remember the feeling. Let it sink in and take it because to get back here, that’s what is going to drive us. We’re going to take a lot of experience from this run and we’ll be back next year.”
Main Image: The Pittsburgh Penguins pose for a group photo with the Stanley Cup Trophy after they defeated the Nashville Predators 2-0 in Game Six of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Bridgestone Arena on June 11, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)