Over the course of this final week of 2017, the staff here at Pensburgh will be highlighting some of our favorite Penguins moments from the last year. From the emergence of new stars, individual jaw dropping goals, and of course another Stanley Cup, 2017 gave us a lot of be happy about.
Our fearless leader Hooks got us underway yesterday with his five best moments of 2017 which you can read right here.
Today, it’s my turn and I can tell you, this was not an easy task. In a year that gave us so many great moments, it was almost impossible to select just five but I gave it my best shot. Stay tuned the rest of the week for more of our top moments of the year.
One last thing before I let you go, thank you to all of our loyal readers who have helped make us one of the best blogs in the SBNation network. None of this would be possible without you. We can’t wait for what 2018 has to bring and I hope you all stay along for the ride because I know you’re going to see what we have in store.
Let’s Go Pens.
[February 25th, 2017] Penguins Defeat Flyers at Heinz Field
When the NHL announced an outdoor game between the Penguins and Flyers was set to take place in February of 2017, it felt like it was long overdue. Both sides had played in their fair share of outdoor games to this point but this was to be the first meeting outdoors between the in-state rivals.
The setting was Heinz Field in Pittsburgh where six years earlier, Sidney Crosby suffered a career altering concussion in the 2011 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals.
Any bad memories that Crosby may have harbored from that fateful day were quickly washed away when he scored the opening goal 11:18 into the first period of play.
In addition to Crosby’s opening tally, the Pens got goals from Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, and Chad Ruhwedel en route to a 4-2 victory under the lights at Heinz Field.
There was some concern about the weather leading up to the game but when the puck dropped it could not have been more perfect a setting. As the day went along the temperature slid towards freezing and flurries fell from the sky and set up a picture perfect scene for an outdoor game.
[Winter/Spring 2017] Jake Guentzel Arrives on the Scene
One major factor in the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup championships has been the emergence of young talent coming up through the system and making an immediate impact at the NHL level. In 2016, it was the like of Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Matt Murray, and others who helped propel the franchise to its fourth title.
In 2017, it was Jake Guentzel who burst onto the scene and became the latest college phenom to make an impact for the Pens and formed the famed “Sid and the kids” line alongside Sidney Crosby and Sheary.
While he made his NHL debut in November of 2016, Guentzel really left his mark once the calendar flipped to 2017. His instant chemistry with Crosby cemented him on the top line and it paid off for the Penguins with another Stanley Cup.
As a rookie, Guentzel led the NHL in goals scored in the playoffs with 13 and finished fourth in overall scoring with 21 points trailing only teammates Evgeni Malkin, Crosby, and Phil Kessel.
It was during Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs where Guentzel sent a message to the hockey world with a hat trick, including the overtime game winner to put the Pens up 3-0 in the series.
[May 19th, 2017] Matt Murray returns in Eastern Conference Finals
After suffering a hamstring tear during warmups prior to Game 1 of the first round against the Blue Jackets, starting goaltender Matt Murray had to stand by and watch Marc-Andre Fleury take over and deliver one of the great performances in franchise history over the course of two rounds.
Then things took a sudden turn in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Ottawa Senators. Falling behind 4-0 in the first period, head coach Mike Sullivan pulled Fleury and replaced him with Murray for the remainder of the game. In his first game action since early April, Murray was sparkling between the pipes over the course of the final 40+ plus minutes and it gave Sullivan the confidence to make a goalie switch for Game 4 with the Pens trailing 2-1 in the series.
Back in as the starter, Murray continued his strong play and helped the Pens even the series at two games a piece heading back to Pittsburgh. A series of saves in the final seconds of play secured the victory.
[May 25th, 2017] Kunitz 2OT Winner sends Pens back to the Final
A back and forth series between the Penguins and Senators got the ending it deserved in Game 7 at PPG Paints Arena. A microcosm of the series itself, Game 7 was a tight knitted affair that saw the Penguins lead twice only to have the Senators answer back quickly to tie it.
As he had all series, Senators’ goalie Craig Anderson stood on his head to keep his team in it and force a win or go home overtime to decide who would represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
Each rush up the ice presented a chance for celebration or heartbreak for either side. Following an extra 20 minutes of play with no winner decided, both sides headed to the locker room to prepare for a second overtime.
For most of the overtime session, the Penguins controlled play but were unable to get a winner past Anderson. Then Chris Kunitz decided he had seen enough...
One of his last moments as a Penguin may be his most memorable. At 5:09 of the second overtime, Kunitz found a soft spot in the offensive zone and Crosby found him, just like they have so many times before. A fluttering soft sailed over a screened Anderson and into the back of the net, sending the city of Pittsburgh into orbit.
For a second straight season, the Penguins were heading to the Stanley Cup Final, looking to be the sport’s first back-to-back champion in 19 years.
[June 11th, 2017] Crosby wins second straight Conn Smythe
There are an unlimited amount of moments from this day I could use here but I’m going with the one that puts all arguments about Sidney Crosby and his legacy to rest.
After captaining the Penguins to a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship following a 2-0 victory in Game 6 over the Nashville Predators, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman summoned Crosby from a crowd of players to accept the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP for the second straight season.
Who should win the Conn Smythe trophy was a hotly debated topic and frankly it could have been any one of Crosby, Malkin, or Kessel for their performances during the Stanley Cup run. Malkin led the league in playoff scoring but at the end of the day it was Crosby taking home the hardware.
Crosby became only the third player in NHL history to win consecutive Conn Smythe trophies, joining former Flyers goalie Bernie Parent and Penguins owner/legend Mario Lemieux. The award also tied Lemieux for the most in franchise history with two.
Any doubts about Crosby’s legacy are now gone and his legacy is now set in stone. He is unquestionably the greatest player of his generation and one of the greatest to ever play in the NHL.
These are my top moments from 2017. In a year where so many great things happened it can be hard to select just five but to me, these moments stood out in my mind. Stay tuned in the coming days for more memories from others on the staff and as always, feel free to leave your favorite memories of 2017 below in the comments.