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Pens Overcome Adversity to Win Cup

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2016 Stanley Cup Champions

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins don't win Stanley Cups easily.

2016 was no different than 1991, 1992 and 2009.

Sidney Crosby

Crosby joined Joe Sakic as the second player to ever win the Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy, Hart Trophy, Olympic Gold, World Championship Gold, and World Junior Championship Gold. He's been nothing but a winner in his life. He's a leader on and off the ice.

It could have all been lost after taking a blindside hit by Washington Capitals forward David Steckel during the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

After a few years of disappointing playoff results and a regular season that started the loud whispers about Crosby's lack of production was a sign of his decline, it all changed with the coaching change that got back to utilizing the team's speed and allowing Crosby and his teammates to be aggressive in all areas of the ice.

The result was Sidney Crosby lifting the Stanley Cup and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy.

And now, let's hope the pressure to secure that second Stanley Cup is gone and he can erase doubts regarding his greatness.

Kris Letang

Kris Letang wasn't having a good playoff series against the San Jose Sharks when it came to having the puck on his stick. It appeared he was hesitating more than he needed to but after the game, we learned prior to game one in the series, he had surgery to clean up an infection under his foot.

While Letang didn't seem his best, he still managed to collect an assist on each game winning goal and scored the winner in the second period against Martin Jones.

Pretty awesome for a guy who has had a stroke, multiple concussions and anger management issues.

No matter what Letang does on the ice, it never seems good enough for those who watch the game, especially those in Canada who left him off the World Cup of Hockey roster. As for Penguins fan, we'll just watch this loop over and over again, let it forever be known as "THE" Letang shift.

And more....

Matt Murray tied record for most wins by a rookie in a single playoff season with 15. Pretty awesome for a guy who was pressed into number one duty because of the concussion to Marc-Andre Fleury. The future is bright for this young man.

Trevor Daley's mother battling cancer is an emotional toll for anyone, let alone a hockey player but for him to then lose out on his dream playing in the Stanley Cup Final after an ankle injury against the Tampa Bay Lighting. While much of the talk was on Pascal Dupuis being the first to be handed the Cup from Crosby, it was Daley who received it in uniform.

Then Dupuis lifted the silver chalice after being forced to retire due to blood clots. The Penguins might win a Stanley Cup without Dupuis around but I'm glad this franchise kept him around so we didn't have to find out. I expect great things for Dupuis in whatever role he finds in retirement.

Is there a player who had more to defend about his character than Phil Kessel? He beat cancer and thanks to General Manager Jim Rutherford, he escaped the suffocating life in Toronto. Kessel had a phenomenal run in the playoffs for the Penguins, often the best player on the ice. While Crosby was dominant, Kessel produced on the scoring sheet.

You can't say enough good things about Kessel's linemates either as Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino helped form the HBK line. Hagelin's ferocious puck pursuit was everything this team needed and couldn't get from David Perron, especially after Dupuis had to retire. Hagelin's style was so similar to Dupuis' that it was amazing the Ducks were willing to move the former Rangers winger.

Then there's Bonino, a center that was dragging on the fourth line in February and by the time Evgeni Malkin went down with an arm injury in March, he was a solid 2-way center that blocked so many shots, he's going to be soaking in a tub of ice all summer.

Then there's Malkin's own battle after taking a Dalton Prout check that forced him out with the arm injury and help ignite the HBK line. Malkin's shot didn't look as strong or accurate but he found a way to get it done, especially in games four, five and six. His defensive work goes unnoticed so often but in game six, he was all over the puck.

Did anyone think Chris Kunitz deserved top 3 lines minutes but he had some key goals for Penguins during this run and made THE defensive play in game six and possibly of this whole playoff run by skating hard back into zone with Joel Ward on a breakaway. Kunitz dove just at the right time and denied Ward getting a shot on Murray.

On Saturday, I wrote Patric Hornqvist needed to score a goal and he didn't let us down scoring an empty net goal to seal the win. Hornqvist was an ox on the ice plowing his way to winning battles along the boards or dropping down to block a shot, once even with his own head. He was exactly what this franchise needed when acquired for James Neal.

What can you say about Bryan Rust, a relentless water bug skimming on the ice to help drive  the puck north and use his speed to help create time and space for Kunitz and Malkin. He was just one of many of the kids from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to do their job.

Another one of those kids was Conor Sheary. He played on a line with Crosby and Hornqvist, helped setup the first two goals of the game with his speed and vision. He thinks the game like a true offensive star but what he lacks in size, he has the heart of a champion.

Tom Kuhnhackl, a son of a great player in Germany had to learn the tough lessons of being more than an offensive player. After Kuhnhackl realized his role under John Hynes and further propelled under Mike Sullivan, he became an important fourth line winger taking a key role on the penalty-kill.

Like so many, Eric Fehr took on an unexpected role as a 4th line forward and key penalty-killer. Impressive for a guy with Washington Capitals blood in him.

Brian Dumoulin was a former number one pick and appeared to be a toss-in as Penguins acquired Brandon Sutter, and number one pick (Derrick Pouliot) for Jordan Staal but the development process took some time and oh did it reap great rewards. Dumoulin scoring the opening goal on the power play in game six was great example of his great two-way play on defense as his fake and then shot gave him the edge on a well placed shot on Jones.

Olli Maatta overcame cancer, mumps, two shoulder surgeries, a bad hit on the boards with bench door open and struggled to reach his skating legs but he overcame it. When time came to get a shift without Letang or Dumoulin, it was Maatta who made a good late defensive play to clear the puck. This kid is going to be so much better with a summer to train after two years of having to rest.

Can't say enough about the job Ben Lovejoy did, almost seemed to settle down Maatta and himself. He played relatively well and as annoying as it is hearing him talk, game after game, this man just played hockey.

Ian Cole went from starter to doghouse for a good stretch and once injuries mounted, he came back and found his way on the ice He's like so many guys who did their job when called upon.

Edmonton Oilers players don't have a great reputation, which Justin Schultz epitomized that when acquired by the Penguins. It didn't take long for Schultz to ditch that reputation and played well for the Penguins. He struggled in games five and six but he skated, made crisp passes and didn't stink like most guys in Edmonton.

And there's DAD, Matt Cullen. He came in to play the calming influence and boy did it ever payoff as Crosby and his teammates didn't breakdown mentally and lose focus as past playoff failures. While much of the credit will go to those guys, Cullen deserves some credit for it as well. The Penguins got Cullen to help play second, third and fourth line duty throughout the season and he produced, a long way from the shifts of Craig Adams.

Finally, Fleury. What a run for him since being an 18-year old rookie leading this franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals. If it wasn't for Fleury's performance last year or this season in the first three months, this team could have been too far back once a coaching change took place. It also tells you what kind of person and teammate Fleury is to not cause problems while the young rookie took the job.