Penguins Win Stanley Cup

Were you a time traveler from the early part of the 2015-16 National Hockey League season, there is no way you would believe the words I am about to type. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the Stanley Cup.

If you think back to the lackluster start the team got off to and all of the hand-wringing about Sidney Crosby being “washed up,” then their 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks tonight at the SAP Center would not even seem plausible.

But the Penguins prevailed. They spent a good deal of the start of the year out of a playoff position, shooting up the Eastern Conference standings around the time the Devils began to drop down, and are now champions.

Brian Dumoulin got the Pens on the board 8:16 into game six, taking a 1-0 lead.  Logan Couture tied things up 6:27 into the second period, but Pittsburgh would strike just 1:19 later when Kris Letang scored the eventual game winner for the Pens. Patric Hornqvist added an empty net goal late in the third to ice the game for the Penguins.

The championship is the fourth in the history of the Penguins and their first since 2009 when they defeated the Detroit Red Wings.

This year’s Cup Final eerily mirrored Pete DeBoer’s last trip to the Finals, which was with the Devils in 2012. DeBoer’s teams fell behind early both times (two games to none), made a series of it, then ultimately fell in six games. The games were all pretty close for the most part, as well, both in 2012 and 2016.

And like the 2012 Kings, the 2016 Penguins rode a hot goalie through the playoffs. Matt Murray was a relatively unknown commodity before he burst on the scene and now the rookie, who played only 13 games in the regular season, has helped get the Penguins the 16 wins necessary to win the Stanley Cup.

The Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the playoff MVP, went to Sidney Crosby. Again, this is an amazing turnaround considering what some fans (and even some analysts) were muttering amongst themselves early in the season. But Crosby got the best revenge of all on everyone by winning.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins on a job well done in 2016. Next up, the Draft and then, before we know it, the World Cup of Hockey in September and the 2016-17 hockey season will be here.

Pittsburgh Halfway to Stanley Cup

With an overtime goal from Conor Sheary last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins are up two games to none in their best-of-seven series with the San Jose Sharks for the Stanley Cup.

The Pens won game one on Monday on the strength of a late goal from Nick Bonino (with about three and a half minutes left in the third period – assists to Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin). The Penguins had blown a 2-0 lead that they accumulated in the first period when Bryan Rust (from Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz) and Sheary (from Sidney Crosby and Olli Maatta) had scored.

But the Sharks would tie things up in the second period when Tomas Hertl cut the lead in half on the power play (from Joonas Donskoi and Brent Burns). Patrick Marleau would knot the game at two (from Burns and Logan Couture) late in the second.

That would set up the dramatic end to the first game of the series as Bonino scored and Pittsburgh hung on to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Pete DeBoer’s team was in an early hole. Things got off to a rough start for San Jose when, after a scoreless first, Phil Kessel got assists from Bonino and Hagelin on his tenth of the playoffs to give the Pens a 1-0 lead.

But the Sharks have been resilient and would again tie things up, this time on a late third period goal from Justin Braun, who notched his first of the playoff year (assists to Couture and Joel Ward).

That set up the overtime period where Conor Sheary would emerge the hero. With superstars Letang and Crosby assisting on his game winner just two and a half minutes into the extra session, Sheary put the Penguins halfway to their fourth Stanley Cup heading into game three in San Jose.

DeBoer has been in this position before. In 2012, his Devils dropped the first two games in the Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils were able to come back, win two games and make a series of it, but ultimately lost in six.

The parallels are striking. In 2012, the Devils lost the first two games in OT (although they lost on home ice, seeing as how they were the higher seed in that Final), which really was hard to swallow. The Sharks have lost game one late and game two in overtime. We will see how they rebound from here going back to their home rink.

As for the Penguins, can they finish things off in San Jose, or will they let the Sharks climb back into it? They are obviously in a position of control right now and they do know how to win. Losing the two games late like they did could be a backbreaker for the Sharks.

This will be a tough hill to climb for the Sharks, but a win on home ice on Saturday could do a lot to get them back into the series. As for the Pens, a sweep is not out of the question that is for sure.