For the first time in seven years, the Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. Pittsburgh had a fantastic run from the middle of the season to the final horn of the Stanley Cup Final and defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games.
This is the fourth Stanley Cup in Penguins’ franchise history.
Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy, despite not scoring a single goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. Crosby realized that scoring less would lead to winning more, something he gladly embraced. He was the best two-way player on the ice during this playoff run and most importantly in the Finals. He was masterful in creating for others and winning faceoffs. In fact, he assisted on the game-winning, Cup-clinching goal. He even blocked a shot late in the third period that led to a Patric Hornqvist empty-netter to clinch the Cup.
This is the first time Crosby won the Conn Smythe. He notched just two assists, but made a ton of defensive plays. To put him winning the Conn Smythe into perspective, he had just three goals and eight assists through the first 20 games. Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston on December 12 and this was a move that benefitted Crosby. He scored 31 goals and had 36 assists in 52 games under Sullivan, who allowed Crosby to be more creative and have more freedom.
Kris Letang was the Penguin who scored the game-winning goal off the Crosby assist. Letang was marvelous in that offensive stretch as he faked a shot, skated down the left side where he threw a pass to the front of the net, skated around the net to get in position on the right side before banging one off the pads of Martin Jones and into the net. This came just one minute and nineteen seconds after Logan Couture tied the game at 1-1. He assisted on all three previous game-winning goals in the Finals. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but he is one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin got the Pens on the board first with a goal 8:06 into the game.
Rookie goal tender Matt Murray, who turned 22-years old during the playoffs, capped off his memorable Cup run stopping 18 of the 19 shots he faced. He finished the postseason – the only action he saw all season – tying the NHL rookie record with 15 wins. He was 6-0 during the playoff run after suffering a defeat. He got the nod after starter Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, right before the playoffs began.
Murray’s counterpart Martin Jones was sensational for the Sharks and had them in position to force a Game 7, but that was just not meant to be. He made a ton of key saves, several for the highlight reels. This comes after Game 5 where he was stone-walling the Pens all night, stopping 44 of the 46 shots he faced.
The Penguins depth and speed were really what propelled this team to this remarkable run. Many thought the physicality of the Sharks would slow down Pittsburgh, but that was not the case. The Penguins were the better team from start to finish of this series. The defense of Pittsburgh really stepped up and helped this team win close games. They were able to block shots and get in the passing lanes of the Sharks. In the decisive Game 6, the Sharks only got two shots on goal in the third period.
General manager Jim Rutherford deserves a ton of credit for the way he built this team. He added a lot of young guys from the minors to give them the speed and depth that proved to be the biggest factor in the Cup Finals. The biggest move he made was when he replaced Johnston with Sullivan, who brought a different style to the team and had previous experience coaching the young guys in the minors.
Phil Kessel, who was acquired in the offseason from Toronto, won his first Stanley Cup. Evgeni Malkin, who won the Conn Smythe in 2009, hoisted the cup for the second time. After Crosby skated around with the Cup, he first handed it off to defenseman Trevor Daley, who missed the Finals after breaking his ankle in the Eastern Conference Finals. He then handed it to Pascal Dupuis, who was forced to retire earlier this season due to reoccurring blood clots. Two stories that really add to the overall story of this Penguins team.
Hats off to the Sharks, who made their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. They had a tremendous turnaround similar to the Penguins and proved a lot of people wrong. In the end, Crosby and company were too much to handle and now they get to celebrate with the Cup all summer long.