Usually around this time of the year, the Stanley Cup is awarded to the worthiest team after a two month war for the gleaming chalice. The Penguins have won their fair share of those fabled Cups (Lange-ism), and yesterday marked 11 years since the Penguins defeated Marian Hossa and the rest of the Detroit Red Wings. It also marked another satisfying Stanley Cup victory as the Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup in 2017 on June 12th, thanks to some heroic performances from Patric Hornqvist and Matt Murray and all the usual suspects.
It was only three years ago, but time seemed to have stood still since the league shut down in March. It feels like it’s going on three years now without any hockey, so let’s take a stroll down memory lane and relive those games that led up to the first back-to-back Stanley Cup of the millennium in the NHL.
Game One wasn’t pretty, but the ending was all that matters, and the Penguins won this game the hard way. After jumping out to an early three goal lead in a four minute span to end the 1st period, the Penguins decided the game was over on and sat back and watched as the Predators got the only shots on goal for THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES and came roaring back to tie the game at three with less than ten minutes left in the game.
Then Jake Guentzel cemented his status as a legend in Pittsburgh when he gets the first shot in THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES, and he made it count big-time when his shot zips by Pekka Rinne who was beat like a rented mule (Lange-ism), and the Penguins are back in business and leading in a game they were barely part of for the majority. Nick Bonino added his second of the game into an empty net, making it five goals on only 12 shots for the Penguins and a 1-0 series lead.
Game Two was much more like a Stanley Cup playoff game than the Game One, but the result was very much the same for the Penguins in this one.
Nashville opened the scoring late in the 1st period with Pontus Aberg’s greatest goal of his life, but once again Geuntzel became the Predator fans’ worst enemy when he tied it up only three minutes later, rather than THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTES this time.
If Guentzel cemented his status after Game One, he may as well have a plaque inside PPG Paints Arena for Game Two. He put the Penguins ahead 2-1 only 10 seconds into the 3rd period when Rinne gives him the juiciest of rebounds into the widest of nets, and Guentzel makes no mistake of it with his 12th goal of the playoffs. Scott Wilson adds another goal three minutes later followed by Malkin’s ninth of the playoffs only 15 seconds after Wilson’s goal to open the floodgates as the Penguins turned a 1-1 tie into a 4-1 lead only 3:28 into the 3rd period, and that was all she wrote in this one other than a little feistiness from P.K. Subban and Malkin in the end as the Pens skated away to a 2-0 series lead, with both GWG coming off the stick of Jake Guentzel.
The series shifted to Nashville which was vibrant as ever and full of life for the Predators in their first taste of Stanley Cup action in their franchise. And the Predators took full advantage of their home fans in this game.
Jake Guentzel gave them quite a scare with his fourth goal in only third game less than three minutes into the game before the Predators finally got one past Matt Murray on the power play almost six minutes into the 2nd period. And the Predators didn’t stop there, they added their second to gain the 2-1 lead quickly after tying the game and never looked back and kept scoring to defeat the Penguins 5-1, marking the first Stanley Cup victory in Nashville history.
This game had some fireworks in it as well. The two teams combined for 70 PIM in the 3rd period that saw noted tough guy Matt Cullen get tossed with three minutes remaining. But the Predators got the last laugh as they played their first complete game of the series and made it a 2-1 series.
Game Four was very similar to Game Three, and for the first time in the series Jake Guentzel was held scoreless in the game. Pekka Rinne outclassed Matt Murray on the other end and stopped 23/24 shots compared to 22/25 for Murray, and the Penguins dropped two in a row by a combined 9-2 score, and even worse the series was knotted up at two game apiece with the Predators suddenly having all the momentum.
The series shifted back to Pittsburgh for Game Five, and the momentum shifted 100% for the Penguins in this one. Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin scored in the 1st period and Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel and Ron Hainsey added three more in the 2nd to make it 6-0 Penguins after only 36:40 of game time.
The Penguins offense was en fuego in this game, but it was Matt Murray who was the Penguins best player in this game. He rebounded as well as any goalie could have and stopped all 24 shots he saw to blank the Predators after giving up eight goals in the two games in Nashville.
More mayhem ensued at the end of this one, 69 (nice) PIM in the 3rd period this time, that finished with a match penalty to Colton Sissons after cross-checking Olli Matta directly in the face with 30 seconds remaining in a 6-0 game.
It was win-or-go-home for Nashville in Game Six. Patric Hornqvist decided that it was time for the Predators to go home in this one. After being drafted with the last pick in the 2005 NHL Draft by Nashville, he dealt them their biggest blow as a franchise when he threw a puck towards Pekka Rinne from behind the Predators net that banked off Rinne and into the net, scoring the first goal of the game 58 minutes into the game, and brought the Penguins 95 seconds away from making it back-to-back championships.
Carl Hagelin made it a done-deal with an empty net goal with only 14 seconds left, and Matt Murray played one of the best games of his life and stopped all 27 shots he faced for his second straight shutout, and second straight Stanley Cup (as a rookie, which is pretty hard to do).
What a ride that was. There weren’t too many experts who believed the Penguins could repeat with Kris Letang out of the lineup. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence as a Penguins fan, honestly. But the Penguins still had some guy named Sidney Crosby, who just so happened to bring home his second straight Conn Smyth Trophy that spring. The last man to do that? Mario Lemieux in 1991-92.
That was as about as good as it gets as a Penguins fan. There were some truly legendary goals scored by some legendary players Penguins along the way. Several players took a massive leap forward that spring and continue to have some extremely big roles to this day with the Penguins in Guentzel, Rust and Murray.
With the league moving forward with the next phase of a potential Stanley Cup Playoff, and that same core mostly intact for Pittsburgh, could 2020 bring another Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh? Stranger things have happened.