In 1974, the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Super Bowl and were in a good position to become the 3rd NFL team to repeat (Green Bay and Miami were the only other teams) at that time. I don’t remember when he said it (to be honest, I was only 3 years old) but Steelers Head Coach made told his team “Whatever it takes” when it comes to winning. That became their slogan and they went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl 10. They would also repeat in 1978 & ’79.
The Pittsburgh Penguins then took over in the late 1990’s and joined the Steelers as repeat champs in the city. I was fortunate to witness Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Tom Barasso and a young Jaromir Jagr win in 1990-91 & 1992-93. When the year of their repeat, they lost their head coach Bob Johnson to cancer and traded popular Paul Coffey and Mark Recchi and they ended up winning the Cup. Why? Because they did whatever it took to win.
Fast-forward to the new millennium and this current team of Penguins are looking like those Steelers and Penguins teams of old. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evangi Malkin, they won in 2009 and the won again last season and were faced with the daunting task of becoming the first team to repeating as Stanley Cup Champions since those great Detroit Red Wings teams in 1997-98.
And the Pens got it done. The Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions again after beating the Nashville Predators 2-0…in Nashville, mind you.
Winger Patric Hornquist’s goal with 1:35 left in the 3rd period broke a 0-0 tie and then Carl Hagelin’s empty-netter sealed it for a Penguins team that fought tooth-and-nail to once again stand alone on the NHL hill. For the second-straight year, Crosby wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Playoff (not finals, boys, and girls)Most Valuable Player. His presence was felt in this series and at times, he looked like Magic Johnson out there, especially when he was piling up those assists as he set up scores for his teammates. Crosby’s only the 6th NHL player to win consecutive Conn-Smythe awards.
But like these NHL Playoffs, this game wasn’t easy for the Penguins as they fought through blood, sweat, and tears to raise the Stanley Cup for a 2nd-straigh year. 23-year old Goalie Matt Murray didn’t
just beat the Predators for the Cup, he shut them out in 2 straight games! In Game 5, he beat them 6-0 in Pittsburgh and then 2-0 in Nashville. He’s had 3 shutouts in 10 playoff games. I think he’s a pretty good goalie.
Murray finished the playoffs for the Penguins because of the one man who decided to go to him, and stick with him the rest of the way: Head Coach Mike Sullivan.
Sullivan was the Penguins HC in their AHL Affiliate before replacing Mike Johnston a year ago. He also bought up several minor-league players and one of them was Murray. If you’ve been watching the Penguins the last 10 years, then you know their #1 goalie was Marc-Andre Fleury, who won the Cup for the Pens in 2008-09. Fluery was injured in last season’s playoffs as was #2 Mark Zakoff. Enter Murray, who was the top goalie in those playoffs and despite being pulled for Fleury in the series vs. Tampa Bay, Sullivan went back to him. End result? Stanley Cup.
Enter this season. Although Murray was the #1 goalie, he was injured at the start of the playoffs and Fleury took over and led them to series wins over Columbus and Washington. But he struggled against Ottawa, and after a 5-2 loss to the Senators in Game 5, Sullivan did it again: He went back to Murray, despite media and fan backlash & he leads the Penguins to another Stanley Cup championship. Murray is Sullivan’s man and he didn’t let him down.
Sure there were other Penguins who were playoff Stars: Crosby, Malkin, rookie Jake Guentzel (who led the Pens in playoff goals) Fluery and of course, Murray, but it was Coach Sullivan who made the smart and hard decisions to lead the Penguins the Cup.
There were times in which it didn’t look like the Penguins were going to repeat. They started the playoffs without D Kris Letang due to injury. They dealt with other injuries. They had their struggles vs. Washington and Ottawa, but they found a way to beat those teams, which is what they did vs. a surprising Nashville team who was unbeatable at home. After both home teams won their respective games on their ice, the Penguins knew that they needed to get a win in Nashville if they wanted to avoid another Game 7. And they got it done. They were great when they had to be.
An excellent example was in the Cup-clincher in Game 6. Both teams were unable to score a goal in 2 and a half periods. Murray was playing his game and Nashville G Pekka Rinne was playing his. In my heart of hearts, I was wondering if this game was going to overtime until Hornquist’s amazing goal bounced off Rinne for the game’s first goal. It went under review due to possible interference, but the goal stood. Then when Rinne was Pulled, Hagelin shut the door on the Predators when he scored the empty-netter. Ironically, Hagelin scored the empty-netter in 2016 as well. His nickname should be the doorman. Great teams aren’t always great, they’re just great, they’re just great when they have to be.
Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, Chris Kunitz all have 3 rings. Murray has 2, owner Mario Lemieux has 5. This team has won 3 Stanley Cups since 2009. That sounds like a dynasty to me.
The Penguins road to the Stanley Cup wasn’t easy, but if you had a chance to interview this team, they would tell you that it was worth it. Champions always find a way to win the trophy. And the Penguins are just that. Whatever it takes. Congrats Penguins, 2016-17 Stanley Cup Champions.
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