This will be the first time since the 2005-06 NHL season that the Pittsburgh Penguins will not be participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ending an incredible 16-year streak.
It is still kind of unbelievable that it happened, especially when the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang is still so good, so productive, and signed so cheaply. But here we are. We have already gone over the reasons for it and will have plenty of time to continue to do so and try to map out what is next for the franchise. Right now I want to just take a minute and look back at how incredible the past 16 years have been with a look at the 16 best playoff games of the the Penguins’ 16-year playoff streak.
It takes 16 wins to win the Stanley Cup, the streak went for 16 seasons, so it just seems fitting.
In total the Penguins played 190 playoff games during that streak (as of now, that is 20 more than any other team during that stretch), won 103 of them (also the most as of now, with Tampa Bay in second place with 97 playoff wins), played in five Eastern Conference Finals, four Stanley Cup Finals, and won three Stanley Cups.
Seriously incredible run.
So here are the games that stood out the most to me. This is strictly my list. Agree or disagree.
1. 2009: Game 7 Stanley Cup Final vs. Detroit Red Wings.
This was arguably the peak season of Penguins fandom (at least for the younger generation of Penguins fans), and the best playoff run of the past 16 years. It was a young, exciting team with emerging legends and people still seemed genuinely excited for games and the team.
When your team wins a championship, the bar gets raised exponentially because you want to see them win again.
You demand to see them win again.
You get an unquenchable thirst for more winning and every time they fail to satisfy that thirst you get angrier and angrier at them for not matching the bar they set. In a lot of ways it kind of sucks because the games, and the seasons, and the team becomes a chore.
But this team still had the excitement factor to it. The big screen outside of the arena was a force, every game day felt massive and like the main event. People legitimately LOVED this team.
On top of that, this championship almost seemed unexpected. Everything was a bonus. They had lost to Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final the year before, the Red Wings got better by signing Marian Hossa away from the Penguins, and then the Penguins were actually outside of the playoffs in mid-February. Then Dan Bylsma changed everything, Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin were the missing pieces, and everything just clicked as they managed to beat the Red Wings by taking their style of play and shoving it right back into their face.
This game was THE game.
Chris Osgood and Brad Stuart fell apart at the hands of Max Talbot and Marc-Andre Fleury played the game of his life, making a career-defining save in the closing seconds on a top-three defenseman of all time.
Fleury was not as good during this postseason run as he was during the previous Stanley Cup Final run, but in this game he was on one.
I still have that shot off the cross-bar in the final two minutes burned in my brain and that bald guy blocking the camera pointing at the net thinking it went in.
It did not, my friend. It did not.
2. 2016: Game 6 Stanley Cup Final vs. San Jose Sharks.
Between 2010 and 2015 there was a belief in some circles that the Crosby-Malkin era had been a disappointment because they had “only” won one Stanley Cup. I was not in that camp. I was strongly against that argument because even winning one championship is a major accomplishment. Nobody is guaranteed anything. But as the Penguins lost to lower-seeded teams and let some series slip away, the frustration grew.
They needed to win again to quiet those critics.
The similarities between this win and the 2009 win are strong.
Slow start to the season. Coaching change early on. Some big trades altering the style of play.
There was a regular season game late in the year against the Rangers where I got the feeling this team was something special, and it was the game they broke Henrik Lundqvist and made him flip the net over during play. They owned him after that.
The clinching game of this series saw Kris Letang play what might be the best game of his career, scoring the cup-clinching goal to cap off an incredible shift. I think he should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year.
3. 2009: Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. Washington Capitals
The Penguins and Capitals rivalry between 2009 and 2018 was the best thing in the NHL.
Crosby and Alex Ovechkin exceeded all of the expectations and hype. Their teams were great. Their playoff matchups? All epic. The team that won all four of them went on to win the Stanley Cup.
This series was the best of them all.
The Penguins overcame a 2-0 series deficit, won two games in overtime, then went into Washington and delivered an emphatic knockout punch in Game 7.
When Fleury stopped Alex Ovechkin on that early breakaway the vibes were strong.
When Crosby and Craig Adams(?!) scored two goals in 15 seconds you knew the game was over.
4. 2009: Game 6 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Max Talbot’s origin story. This game needs no further description.
5. 2017: Game 6 Stanley Cup Final vs. Nashville Predators
The Penguins become the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat as champions. Matt Murray closes out the series with back-to-back shutouts and the Penguins have an epic extended 5-on-3 penalty kill in the third period to set the stage for Patric Hornqvist’s Cup-clinching goal.
6. 2009: Game 6 Stanley Cup Final vs. Detroit Red Wings
The Penguins faced an identical situation the previous year and watched Detroit steal a late win thanks to a bad bounce around the net to win the Stanley Cup on Pittsburgh’s ice.
This time the bounce around the net went the Penguins’ way and slide into Rob Scuderi’s leg, setting the stage for an epic Game 7 in Detroit.
7. 2008: Game 5 Stanley Cup Final vs. Detroit Red Wings
Petr Sykora called his shot in triple overtime after the Penguins tied the game in the final minutes to keep Detroit from winning the Stanley Cup.
8. 2017: Game 7 Eastern Conference Final vs. Ottawa Senators
Kunitz was a shell of his former self at this point, but he could still make an impact and did he ever pick the best moment to make one of those impacts. He scored two goals in this game, including the series-clinching goal in double overtime, and also provided a valuable screen on the Penguins’ other goal in this game.
9. 2009: Game 2 Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. Washington Capitals
CONTROVERSY! Maybe. Is this too high for you for this game, given that it was so early in the series and the fact the Penguins did not even win it? MAYBE! But like I said above, this was the best series these two teams played and it was the dueling hat trick game for Crosby and Ovechkin. This was peak 2000s/2010s hockey.
10. 2016: Game 6 Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. Washington Capitals
The Penguins did everything they could to lose this game, blowing a 3-0 lead and then taking three consecutive delay of game penalties in the third period to send it to overtime. Then the Penguins won in overtime for the second time in the series when the HBK line came through. The Capitals were the Presidents’ Trophy winners and heavy favorites, especially against a Penguins team that still had its share of doubters for its early playoff exits.
11. 2008: Game 1 Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. New York Rangers
Did you forget about this game? I didn’t! This during the first Stanley Cup Final run of the Crosby-Malkin era and came just after the Penguins had completed a four-game sweep of the Ottawa Senators. Then they came out at home and fell behind 3-0 in the first 23 minutes. Then stormed back for a win that would completely suck the life out of the Rangers. The Penguins won seven straight games to open this postseason and had a 3-0 series lead in each of their first three series before running into Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final.
12. 2016: Game 7 Eastern Conference Final vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
When the Penguins lost Game 5 of this series to fall into a 3-2 series hole things were looking bleak. But they went into Tampa Bay, took Game 6, then returned home for Bryan Rust to make his presence felt with the only two goals in a 2-1 win to punch the Penguins’ ticket for the Stanley Cup Final.
13. 2008: Game 5 Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. New York Rangers
Trading for Marian Hossa was the, “holy shit, they are going for it” moment that really injected life into the fan base and the team. Obviously everybody knew they had something special brewing with Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and Jordan Staal, but getting THE top trade deadline acquisition just under the deadline was the moment you knew everybody was all in. Hossa was sensational during this playoff run and scored his biggest goal of the playoffs when he eliminated the Rangers in overtime.
14. 2018: Game 6 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal vs. Philadelphia Flyers
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups the Penguins opened their three-peat attempt with another series against their cross-state rivals. Just like they did in 2009, they clinched it with a come-from-behind win in Game 6 in Philadelphia. This time it featured Jake Guentzel not only scoring four goals in the clinching win, but scoring four CONSECUTIVE goals.
15. 2016: Game 1 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal vs. New York Rangers
The Jeff Zatkoff game! This game should not get forgotten. Again, the playoff vibes around the Penguins at this time were not great. They were playing a Rangers team that had tormented them in the playoffs in recent years, and they not only had to deal with a goaltending controversy with Murray and Fleury, but it was the most insane goalie controversy imaginable because neither one of them was ready to start the playoffs. When Jeff Zatkoff lead the team out of the tunnel there was a feeling of doom. Then he played amazing, helped the Penguins take Game 1, and they cruised through the Rangers to start their Stanley Cup run.
16. 2022: Game 1 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal vs. New York Rangers
The Penguins ultimately lost this series in stupid fashion, and the hero of this game ended up being the goat of the series, but for about 25 minutes Louis Domingue was .... something. Anytime you win a playoff game in triple overtime it is something special. When you do it on the road, while overcoming a 2-0 deficit, and then having to play all of the overtimes with your third string goalie, it is a memorable game. Even if the series turned into a turd sandwich.