The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, as they beat the San Jose Sharks, 3-1, on the road in Game 6 of the Final.
Unlike the fifth game of the series, when there were four goals in the first five minutes of the game, the first goal of this game came 8:16 into it, and it was Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin on the power play, from Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz.
Logan Couture, one of San Jose’s key players through their playoff run, tied it 6:13 into the second period, on a brilliant set-up from Melkar Karlsson and Brent Burns.
It took just one minute and 19 seconds for the Penguins to re-take the lead, as Kris Letang scored on a feed from Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary.
The Penguins’ defense stepped up the rest of the way, as they blocked 33 shots and allowed the Sharks to get just two shots on net in the third period.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray, the rookie who stepped in for Marc-Andre Fleury one of the biggest contributors throughout the playoffs, made 18 saves.
The Penguins sealed the victory with 1:02 left in the game when Crosby set up Patric Hornqvist for an empty-netter to make it 3-1.
The Penguins finished off one of the greatest turnarounds in hockey history, as they went 33-16-5 after Mike Sullivan took over as head coach in December.
They went from being out of the playoffs to the second spot in the Metropolitan Division, bypassing the Rangers to gain home ice in the first round.
The Penguins faced the Rangers in the first round and dispatched them in five games to avenge losses to them in the playoffs the prior two years.
Pittsburgh followed that up by beating the team with the best record in the NHL, the Washington Capitals, in six games in the second round.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Pittsburgh beat the Tampa Bay Lighting, who made the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, in a classic seven-game series.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the postseason. Crosby had 19 points (6 goals, 13 assists) in 24 playoff games. In the regular season, Crosby had 85 points (36 goals and 49 assists) in 80 games. He ranked third in points, seventh in goals, and ninth in assists in the NHL.
Crosby said of what he did to win the Conn Smythe, “I don’t know. There are so many guys who contributed, to be honest. I look at this as a total team effort. I tried to work hard every night, do my job just like everyone else. I don’t know if I did anything different or specific. I think everyone just competed, everyone tried to do what’s expected of them, tried to play their role. If you do that every night, we have a pretty good chance of winning.”
Sullivan said of what winning the Conn Smythe, and his performance in the playoffs, does for his legacy, “I think it places him up there with the greats of the game of all time. He’s that good in my mind. I’ve said all along here through the course of the playoffs, he’s deserving of the Conn Smythe. His numbers don’t indicate the impact he had on helping this team win, or the impact he had on a game‑to‑game basis.
“He was a great leader for our team. It started by example with his performance and how he played. He’s a complete player. He plays at both ends of the rink. He’s a great faceoff guy. He kills penalties when we need him to. He plays in all the key situations.
“I could tell as we went through this post‑season that he knew that our team had something special. He was going to will this thing. I thought he was just terrific throughout the course of this post‑season,” said Sullivan.
Crosby said of how they were out of the playoffs on December 12 and are champions six months later to the day, and how this was possible, “Well, obviously after a coaching change, I think everyone takes that personal, puts the responsibility on their shoulders to be better. I think individually and as a group we had high expectations, we knew we needed to be better. I thought we just slowly got better and better.
“Mike came in and made it pretty clear how he wanted us to play, what he expected from each individual guy. I think guys just welcomed the opportunity, welcomed the challenge, tried to get back on track.
“It took some time. Didn’t happen overnight. But March was a big month for us. We knew we had to get a big push to get in the playoffs. We knew once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. We were playing good at the right time.
“We had to go through some really good teams. Every team we played. New York was playing good down the stretch. Washington obviously, top team. Tampa had us on the brink of elimination. Then obviously San Jose, with the way they play, they’re physical, fast. Jones was unbelievable through the whole series. I thought we had a lot of fight. We found a way.”
Sullivan said of what he did to change this team, to get them to change with the focus on defense, and very fast, and how that explains Sidney Crosby exploding defensively, “The one thing we tried to do was create an identity and establish an identity. I thought as the head coach, it was my responsibility to direct that. So we look at our personnel. When we looked at the type of players we have, our core guys, we think we’ve got players that want to play fast. They can all really skate, when you look at (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and (Phil) Kessel and (Kris) Letang, (Carl) Hagelin we acquired down the stretch.
“Our core guys, they can all really skate. They want to play fast. They want to come through the neutral zone with speed. We tried to implement a game plan that allowed them to play to their strengths. So we tried to create an identity. When we go in and play a team, their coaches have a meeting before the game, what are they saying about the Pittsburgh Penguins? If 29 teams are saying the same thing, then we’ve created an identity. That’s what we tried to do. And our players bought in.
“We felt as though, if we were a team that could play fast in every aspect of the game, that could be our competitive advantage on some of our opponents. I thought (Penguins General Manager) Jim Rutherford did a tremendous job in acquiring some guys along the way that enhanced that speed for us. So when we started to gain some traction down the stretch, that was the evidence that the players needed to get them to believe. Once we established that, I think they felt as though we had what it takes in our room.”
Sullivan said of having the opportunity to reflect on his role in this run, “I haven’t had the opportunity to reflect on it, to be honest. I’m trying to enjoy the moment. I think when our guys were carrying the Stanley Cup around out there, what was going through my mind was, first and foremost, how proud I am of them for the sacrifices that they’ve made for us to win this championship. Then how grateful I am for the opportunity that I’ve been given to coach this team.
“When you ultimately win the championship, you reflect for a short period on the ice with the players, the one thing that jumps out at me is how hard it is to win. The San Jose Sharks are a great team. We have so much respect for how good they are.
“It’s hard to win this. So couldn’t be more proud of our players for the effort that they put in, the sacrifices that they made, the resilience and resolve they showed throughout the course of the second half of this season and throughout the post‑season to win this championship.
“I really believe in order to win this championship, you have to have a whole lot of character in the dressing room. I think we have it in abundance,” said Sullivan.
Crosby said of the moment that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed him the Stanley Cup, “I wasn’t really thinking about ’09 that much. I was just thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, just trying to enjoy every second of it.
“It’s not easy to get here. Having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit. You don’t think you do at the time, but it’s not easy to get to this point. Just try to enjoy it the best I can.
Crosby said of waiting seven years to win another Stanley Cup and if he ever worried the window was starting to close, “When you have so much turnover the last couple years like we had, it’s not easy to throw a bunch of guys together and develop that chemistry, that trust. It doesn’t happen overnight.
“When you look at the group, how many new players we brought in, it was pretty special what we were able to do. We had a core that played together for a while, there was some trust there. When you look at all the guys we added, the young guys, the guys we added through trades, I think it takes a special group to be able to come together that quickly and build that trust basically along the way.
There wasn’t past experience really, like I said, besides the core group to kind of fall back on. As we went along, we were building it. That was a huge part. Keeping that momentum.”
After Crosby received the Cup, he brought it first to three long-time teammates who missed the playoffs due to injury, defenseman Trevor Daley, who had a broken ankle; forward Pascal Dupuis, who was put on injured reserve in December; and goalie Marc‑Andre Fleury, who got a concussion late in the regular season.
On why it was important to share it with those three players, Crosby said, “There’s so many different things that motivate you obviously to win, but there’s other things. Daley had played for such a long time. Hadn’t really even had a chance. He had been through some different playoffs, but getting hurt at the time he did, knowing how important it was, he had told me that he went and seen his mom in between series and stuff, she wasn’t doing well, she wanted to see him with the Cup. That was important to her. I think that kind of stuck with me after he told me that. We were motivated to get it for him, even though he had to watch.
“Duper (Dupuis), obviously what he’s been through the last couple years, the type of teammate he’s been, just the way he’s approached everything. I think he would have loved to have been playing. This is as good as we could have done without him playing. That was special.
And Flower (Fleury), the teammate he’s been, it hasn’t been easy getting hurt like he did. Having come in and played the way he did, he just handled it better than you’d expect.
“All three guys, Jeff, Flower and Mur, it’s about your team. Those guys showed it the best way you can.”