As we did multiple times throughout the season, multiple Twitter accounts combined to write one big Roundtable discussion giving our opinions on certain topics. Myself along with @PensDen, @PensArmy_, @FranjiPensPress, and @ ZackMorris82 discuss some of the things that really engineered our Stanley Cup Championship run.
- Reviewing GMJR by @ZackMorris82
Prior to the conclusion of the season, I was assigned to write about Jim Rutherford and the job he’s done as the Penguins General Manager. Last year, many were on the fence, myself included after a few questionable decisions he made in terms of roster construction and what not. This year, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Penguins moving the Mario Lemieux statute to make way for a Jim Rutherford statute right next to his. The work Rutherford has put into this roster is exactly why the Penguins went from a slow, lethargic, boring team that everyone wanted to play, to a fast, high-energy, explosive team that no one wanted to play. Let’s break it down, aye?Let me toss some names at you that you may sadly remember for the 2014-2015 roster, if you want to stop reading and go cry now, I understand. Mark Arcobello, Blake Comeau, Daniel Winnik, Maxim Lapierre, and Nick Spaling just to name a few. Yeah, I left some out like Brandon Sutter, whom I still think the Penguins would have been ok with, but Brandon Sutter brought us the greatest gift of all in Nick Bonino. David Perron is another name and though he started the 2015-2016 season with the Penguins, he’s a name most everyone tries to forget. Mind you, I’m not bashing the likes of Blake Comeau and Daniel Winnik (wait yes I am), it’s just that with the Penguins core and the speed they already possessed, guys like these brought them down. Don’t even get me started on Craig F’n Adams. For a time last year, we despised Adams so much that in our Gamedays we’d just refer to him as ‘Forward 27’ because we hated giving his name any attention. Let’s quickly get out of the dark days of Penguins history and on to better times.
Here we are at the end of the 2015-2016 season, sitting pretty as Stanley Cup champions. Let’s look at what Rutherford did this year to make that a possibility: Phil Kessel. Trevor Daley. Carl Hagelin. Justin Schultz. Did Rutherford swing and miss like McCutchen in the playoffs on guys like Plotnikov? Sure, but guess what, he greatly redeemed himself with the acquisitions he made to put this Cup winning team in place.
Let’s start with the most obvious player that became a Penguin this past off-season, Phil Kessel. Say what you want about Kessel, but at least say this, the man is a Stanley Cup champion now. Steve Simmons if you’re reading this somehow ahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahah @you and other members of the Toronto media that ran Kessel out of town. I also owe you a huge thank you though, because without Kessel, the Penguins may not have gotten here. It wasn’t just the Kessel factor though; Rutherford saw the Penguins needed a top six winger to compliment Sid and Malkin. To be fair, guys like Oshie and Saad were also out there. Had the Penguins gotten one of those guys, I would have been happy with Rutherford. But no, Rutherford took the risk on this ‘locker room cancer,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘fat’, ‘un-coachable’ player,’ and my god did it pay dividends. Phil Kessel and Jim Rutherford together blocked out the haters and Phil looked like a completely different player in a Penguins jersey. In addition, Rutherford was able to get Kessel for a steal. Not having to trade Maatta or Pouliot was a huge plus, considering that before prospect Ethan Prow, the Penguins blue line was looking quite thin terms of depth. Either way, who the hell cares because Kessel won a cup here and that’s the ultimate goal.
The next big challenge Rutherford faced was coaching. Mike Johnston was your typical politician; he said the right things but never acted on them. Johnston was a fan of letting young guys play when he got hired the year before. Jump ahead to this year and Daniel Sprong is playing seven minutes a night on the fourth line. It didn’t help that Crosby and Malkin were offensive stars playing 200-foot hockey, chasing pucks in deep. So with a piss poor start and the Penguins looking worse and worse as the season continued, Rutherford stepped in.
On the day I graduated college, almost the exact minute I walked across stage, Rutherford fired Mike Johnston and replaced him with the GOAT Mike Sullivan. The Penguins would go on to lose their next four games and everyone thought nothing had changed. HAHAHAHA at you for thinking that. Implementing Sullivan’s system and trying to un-brainwash (if that’s a word) Mike Johnston’s system was hard (that’s what she said) and therefore took time.
In order to help facilitate that transition time, Rutherford once again leaped into action when he traded Rob adfjasjfjkasdkjf= Scuderi for Trevor Daley. This was a trade that NHL 16 would laugh at you for, and ultimately made you cry. The Blackhawks took Rob adsjfajsdjfka Scuderi for a serviceable puck-moving defenseman in Trevor Daley. You want to make a Blackhawks fan mad, go through Twitter and retweet posts where fans say ‘Daley sucked’ and ‘Scuderi is what we need.’ My god, they’ll be mad at you. Construction should have started on the Rutherford statute right then and there just for that trade alone. I’ll never forget the Pens were playing the Capitals that night, and I was setting up for the Penguins Live Post-Game show. The Pens had just announced the trade via Twitter and I turned to Josh Getzoff and was like “Pens just traded Scuderi…. for Trevor Daley?!?!” The Pens lost that game, but in our hearts and minds it was a moral victory. What a heist Rutherford pulled off on that one.
While I believe the Kessel move was the biggest move Rutherford made, the Hagelin deal was the best move. On January 16th at literally like 3:00AM, which is normally 12 hours past Jim Rutherford’s bedtime, he agreed to trade David Perron and defenseman Adam Clendening to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Carl Hagelin. The Penguins had acquired Perron the year before in exchange for Rob Klinkhammer (unreal name) and a first round pick, so obviously you felt as if the Penguins had lost the trade giving up on Perron so soon. Yes, you’re right to an extent but in reality what this came down was just a change of scenery that benefitted all parties involved. Prior to the trade, Perron had recorded just 4 goals and 12 assists in 43 games as a Penguin. Yikes. Carl Hagelin had only produced 4 goals and 8 assists in 43 games. The Penguins knew they were getting a guy that could skate circles around anyone else in the NHL, on top of having playoff experience, being that he was the guy that eliminated the Penguins in Game Five against the Rangers the year before. Since the trade, Hagelin went on to record 10 goals and 17 assists in 37 games played. Perron went on to record… who the hell cares because he’s not a Stanley Cup champion. Either way, Hagelin made the Penguins even more fast, and even more fun to watch, and you truly felt as if the team was coming together following his acquisition.
Rutherford would then add the final piece to the puzzle on February 27th when he acquired defenseman Justin Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for a 3rd round pick and 50% retained on Schultz’s contract. For his pedigree, Schultz really underperformed in Edmonton, then again, notice everyone and everything in Edmonton underperforms so I personally don’t think it’s the players, but nonetheless Justin Schultz got a new lease on life when he came to Pittsburgh. Schultz proved huge down the stretch when Maatta’s game went to hell and when Daley broke his ankle in the Tampa series, another absolutely fantastic acquisition by Rutherford. In fairness to Edmonton, it does make a significant difference when a young guy like Schultz is playing third-pair minutes as opposed to the top minutes he was seeing in Edmonton.
This was just a barebones list of what Rutherford did this year. This doesn’t count his trust in Mike Sullivan and his approval of Sullivan sticking with the young guys when they came up, or his offseason signing of Matt Cullen, which ultimately was one of the best decisions he made in giving that man a contract, or his signing of Eric Fehr, who not only provided leadership, but also thrived as a defensive forward in the Penguins system, and more so, it was a plus that the Penguins didn’t have to play against him in Washington anymore. Jim Rutherford was able to take a team that many thought the window had closed on, that had too many superstars, or was too old and slow, and was able to transform them into a dangerously skilled, fast, fun hockey team. Rutherford was nominated for GM on the Year and we’ll find out at the NHL Awards on June 22nd if he won, but for now, he’s got a shiny silver trophy to show for his efforts this year.
- HCMJ vs. HCMS by @FranjiPensPress
These Penguins clearly performed differently under both coaches that they experienced this year, them being Mike Johnston and Mike Sullivan. When the decision was made in mid-December to fire Mike Johnston and bring up the coach of the red hot WBS Penguins Mike Sullivan, the Penguins truly did play differently, although the win/loss column did not dictate this early.
The Penguins began Sullivan’s tenure on an 0-4 skid, despite playing with more fire and confidence than they ever did under Johnston. From that point on, well, you all know what happened.
The Penguins became your 2016 Stanley Cup Champions.
So what made this team so much different under Sullivan as opposed to the team that was playing under Johnston? Here are my thoughts on the main differences between the head coaches:
• Mike Sullivan gave this team an identity. Under Mike Johnston, the Penguins only put up respectable numbers due to the stellar play of Marc-Andre Fleury. Crosby stunk, Malkin was okay, Kessel was not performing near the level many expected him to play at, and it just seemed like no one had a specific role on the team. Sullivan changed that. He created the Penguins identity of speed. He brought up the likes of Rust and Sheary to bolster the offense. GMJR bought in, trading Scuderi and Perron for Daley and Hagelin respectively. And heck, the players bought in too. Who was ever going to catch that team in the playoffs?
• Johnston focused on defense and the X’s and O’s. This is not always a bad thing, but with this team, it was. Johnston was given a team, even without the midseason trades, which had ample ability to score goals. However, his style was more defensive, since the Penguins’ defensive corps early in the season was lacking. He tried to make up for it by making the offense play defense, which took away from guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel. Johnston was given a sports car and never took it onto the freeway. Sullivan got that same sports car, decked it out, and put it right on the freeway and kicked it up to 100 MPH. Simply put, Sullivan played to the team’s strengths, while Johnston did not.
• Mike Sullivan got through to the star players. This was absolutely huge. It was clear Mike Johnston was not getting through to these guys, especially the Crosby’s and the Malkin’s. Sullivan, however, immediately earned the respect of these guys and they bought into what he was selling. Remember where Crosby was in December? All washed up and such? Yeah, he’s now a 2 time Stanley Cup champion, a Conn Smythe trophy winner, AND a finalist for the Hart trophy (which Kane will and should win, but still, to be honored for the award where he was at midseason is incredible). Remember Letang in December? Oh my goodness was he awful. Then all of a sudden he played like not only a Norris finalist, but a Norris winner for the remainder of the year. If not for his early season slump, Letang very well could have won the Norris Trophy.
• Mike Sullivan taught this team to just play and not get caught up in the emotions too much. This, although subtle, was the biggest difference Sullivan made to this team. Wanna know why the Penguins finally beat Philly this year after not beating them in 2+ NHL seasons? They did not buy into Flyers hockey. They just played. They played Penguins hockey. I wrote about this in an article from earlier this season, but it is such a standout moment to me that I will recap. Kris Letang just finished up one of his worst games of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning in February, taking multiple retaliatory penalties in a 4-2 loss. The next day they arrived in Buffalo, Sullivan kept Letang on the plane and talked to him about keeping his emotions in check and channeling them to his on-ice play. He responded with a 3 assist night and a plus-2 rating, and for the most part, did not take many retaliatory penalties for the rest of the season. Remember when Crosby was getting hounded and cross-checked from Joe Thronton in game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final? The Crosby of 1 or 2 years ago may have retaliated, giving the other team some momentum. The Crosby of Sullivan’s Penguins skated away and “just played.” It brings out the best of the Penguins, and the proof is the Stanley Cup that they raised over their heads on June 12, 2016.
- 2016 Playoffs by @PensDen
Round 1 – New York Rangers – “Exercising Old Demons”.
The Pittsburgh Penguins entered Round 1 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs facing a familiar foe – the New York Rangers. Recent playoff history between these two has not been kind – most recently losing to the Rangers in the 2015 on a overtime goal scored by non other than Carl Hagelin.
The Penguins also entered the series with MAF and Matt Murray injured. This would mean Jeff Zatkoff would get the start for Game 1. Fans were nervous as he had not played well during the regular season. What the fans were rewarded with was the best game Zatkoff ever played. He was seeing the puck well, making great saves, and had exceptional defense. On the other side Lundqvist didn’t fare so well as he left after a stick from one of his own players hit him near the eye. Rants came in and unfortunately for the Rangers the Penguins took advantage. Patrick Hornqvist got a hat trick and the Pens won 5-2.
Zatkoff had to start Game 2 as Fluery and Murray were still not ready to play. This time though the Penguins were out played most of the evening and lost 4-2.
Game 3 and the series shifted to Madison Square Garden. Good news for the Penguins was Matt Murray was available and started his first NHL playoff game. This game ended being a goaltenders duel as both Lundqvist and Murray traded spectacular saves. Sidney Crosby broke the tie and scored a power play goal on a tip in. Kris Letang sealed the win with a empty net goal making it 3-1 Penguins.
Game 4 was all Penguins. Malkin scored two goals and Murray got his first NHL Playoff shutout 5-0. Hornqvist, Sheary, and Fehr scored as well.
Game 5 was back at Consol. Could the Pens close out the series on home ice ? With the score tied at two, the Penguins then took it to the Rangers with goals scored by Rust, Cullen, Sheary, and Rust again to open up a four goal lead. The Rangers scored in the third but by that time it was over. Penguins win the game 6-3 and take the series 4-1. So great to see the Penguins finally beat a team that had their number the past few playoffs.
Round 2 – Washington Capitals – “Best Team In The NHL”
Most experts said there would be no way the upstart Penguins would best the President Trophy Best Team In The NHL Washington Capitals. Too much firepower with Ovechken & Oshie. Venezia Trophy Candidate Holtby shuts everybody down. No matchup for Washington’s physical play. Well the experts don’t actually play now do they ?
Game 1 was at Washington. The “hit machine” was in full force not only for the Capitols but the Penguins as well. It was a close game most of the night. The Penguins were hanging on to a 3-2 lead and with 3:23 left Oshie ties it due to a defensive lapse by the Penguins. Unfortunately that wasn’t the last we would hear from him as he scored at 9:33 to win Game 1 for the Capitols.
Game 2 back at Washington. Tight checking and great goaltending by both teams made this a great game. Unfortunately Brooks Orpik took out Ollie Maatta with a illegal hit to the head for which he would receive a one game suspension. A formers Capitol Eric Fehr scored the go ahead goal and the Penguins faced a onslaught by the Capitols. Murray stood tall and the Penguins take Game 2 2-1.
The scene shifted to Consol for Game 3. Matt Murray turned in a spectacular 47 save performance in front of the home crowd. Penguins went up 3-0 on goals by Hornqvist, Kuhnhackl, and Hagelin. Washington closed the score to 3-2 with under a minute left in the game. Murray sealed the deal earning the Penguins a 3-2 victory.
Game 4 back at Consol. Trevor Daley stepped in as Kris Letang was serving a one game suspension. He played probably the best game of his career. He scored in the first and Cullen put the Penguins up 2-1 at 3:07 of the third. Carlson tied it at 16:19. We would need OT to decide it. Unlike Game 1 the Penguins really dictated the play in OT. And at 2:34 Patric Hornqvist won it for the Penguins. Great game by Murray who finished with 36 saves.
Headed back to Verizon Center for Game 5 where the Capitols knew there season was on the line. The teams traded goals in the first but the Capitols responded with two in second taking advantage of some miscues by the Penguins and won the game 3-1 insuring a Game 6 back at Pittsburgh.
Game 6 at Consol was all “HBK”. A key point in this game was when Orpik took a four minute minor penalty. Penguins took advantage of this scoring twice with goals by Kessel and Hagelin and opened up a 3-1 lead going into the third period. Capitols realizing their season was on the line scored twice to tie it. Once again we go to OT. Penguins from the drop of the puck were determined to end the Capitols season. The “B” of the HBK line Nick Bonnino obliged us. Hagelin took the shot and Bonnino giving us his best Hornqvist impression in front of the net tips it home to win the game and series for the Penguins.
The President Trophy winning best team in the league Washington Capitols were headed for the golf course. The experts, once again were wrong.
Round 3 – Tampa Bay Lightning- Eastern Conference Final – “Bolts Don’t Work With Rust On Them”
For only the second time in their histories, the Penguins face the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first time, back in 2011, saw the Lightning erase a 3-1 deficit and win the series. But the Penguins were without Crosby & Malkin due to injuries and Cooke who was suspended.
Game 1 at Pittsburgh saw the Penguins get 9 shots in the first seven minutes of the game. At the 7:35 mark Lightning goalie Ben Bishop crumbled to the ice after twisting his leg trying to make a save. He was carried off on a stretcher. Andrei Vasilevskiy came in and played brilliantly only giving up a second period goal to Hornqvist. The Lightning got one late in the first and two in the second and take Game 1 by the final score of 3-1.
For the first 10 minutes of Game 2 at Consol it was all Penguins as they got goals from Cullen and Kessel to go up 2-0. Stralman returned from his broken leg earlier in the season to score for the Lightning followed by Drouin and by the end of the first it was tied at 2-2.
Even though there was no scoring in the second or third it was by no means boring. Vasilevskiy made several brilliant saves as the Penguins ended up with 38 shots for the game.
Overtime was all Pittsburgh. Crosby on a beautiful pass from Rust put it past Vasilevskiy’s blocker to win it for the Penguins. It was Crosby ending his seven game scoring drought. He stated post game he was yelling at Rust to pass it to him. It was textbook perfect and Sid buried it.
Scene shifted to Game 3 in Tampa. HBK line once again figured into the scoring. Hagelin scored with ten seconds left in the second period to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Third period saw Kessel make it 2-0 before Johnson score 14 seconds latter to cut the lead to 2-1. Crosby and Kunitz scored three minutes apart to open up a 4-1 lead. Palat scored at 18:16 of the third before Murray and the Pens closed the door with the Penguins winning 4-2.
Game 4 was ugly until the third period for the Penguins. Tampa scored in the first minute of the game and built a 4-0 lead. The Penguins came storming back to score three in the third. But the Penguins couldn’t force OT and lost 4-3. Worse Daley fell awkwardly after a check into the boards and ended up breaking his ankle.
Mike Sullivan made a decision to start Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 5 in Pittsburgh. Penguins got a 3-2 lead late in the second thanks to great goal by Kunitz. Fleury looked okay through the first two periods but fatigue was setting in in the third. Late in the third the Lightning tie it on a goal from Kucherov. Overtime it looked as if the Penguins were standing still as a shot that was deflected off of Johnson went in and the Lightning won. The Penguins now stood on the brink of elimination heading back to Tampa for Game 6.
Game 6 saw Murray back in the net. The Penguins were very determined to have a different out come than Game 5. They built a 3-0 lead on goals by Kessel, Letang, and Crosby. The Lightning scored twice in the third with both goals from Boyle to narrow the lead to 3-2. Murray and the defense were incredible during some intense pressure by Tampa. Rust scored a huge goal on a slick breakaway making it 4-2 Penguins. Bonnino sealed the win for the Penguins with an empty net goal making the final score 5-2 Penguins.
Back in Pittsburgh for Game 7 and Bryan Rust picked up where he left off in Game 6 scoring at 1:55 of the second. Drouin ties it at 9:36 but thirty seconds latter Rust scored the game and series clinching goal. Murray and the Penguins defense had a stellar third period and the Pittsburgh Penguins were headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2009. The old saying proved true “Bolts don’t work with Rust on them”.
“You can spit shine your shoes Mabel. We’re going dancing with Lord Stanley”.
Round 4 – Stanley Cup Finals – San Jose Sharks – “Thanks Paulie”
The Penguins opponent for the Stanley Cup Finals was the San Jose Sharks. This was the first time in the Sharks reached the Finals in their 25 year history. Pittsburgh, having the better regular season record had home ice for the finals which hadn’t happened since 1992.
The first period in Game 1 at Consol was all Pittsburgh. Rust & Sheary scored 1:02 apart to stake the Pens out to a 2-0 lead. The second period saw the momentum shift to the Sharks as the Penguins sat back and let them dictate play. By the end of the second it was 2-2.
Hold on to your hats for the third period. Penguins had plenty of chances but weren’t getting that “puck luck” with several post shots and some good goaltending by Jones. It was looking like we were headed for OT when at 2:32 Bonnino puts one in past Jones and a sliding Martin to give the Pens a 3-2 lead. But with 2:09 left Lovejoy gets called for a questionable hooking call. Actually this worked to the Pens advantage. Even though the Sharks pulled Jones and had a two man advantage the Penguins could shoot down the ice all they wanted to without fear of icing. Incredible team defense and stellar play by Murray sealed the deal. The crowd roared in approval as the puck was cleared from the Penguins zone with a final score of 3-2.
Game 2 at Consol was a very close affair. Kessel opened the scoring at 8:20 of the second period to stake the Penguins to a 1-0 lead. The Penguins retained the lead until 15:55 of the third period when Braun tied it at one. Unlike Game 1 this one was headed for OT. And it was all Penguins. Crosby called a set play on a face off. He told Letang the puck was coming to him. Instead of shooting he waited to pass to Sheary who found the soft spot in coverage. With a perfect screen by Hornqvist Sheary’s shot beats Jones. Penguins win 2-1 and take a 2-0 series lead.
It was a very unlikely player to open the scoring for the Penguins in Game 3 in San Jose. Lovejoy took a shot from the blue line and buried it giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Less than 5 minutes latter Braun for the Sharks tied it at one. With less than a minute left in the second period Hornqvist tips in a shot by Lovejoy and the Penguins are up 2-1. Penguins were shooting left and right at Jones in the third period but he was equal to the task. A seemingly harmless shot from the blue line found its way past Murray and the Sharks tied it at 8:48 in the third. This is one that by everyone’s account was a soft goal to give up. Again the Penguins and Sharks traded chances with the Penguins getting the better of the play but not scoring. Once the Penguins were headed to OT. It would be an understatement to say the Penguins dominated OT. Jones made some great saves and had some puck luck as the Penguins pressed and put intense pressure on the Sharks. At 12:18 Donoski skated around the back of the Penguins net unabated and put up a backhander that just found its way in the back of the net. Sharks win their first game of the series 3-2.
One thing about this Penguins team was their ability to respond and play well after a loss. That’s exactly what they did in Game 4. Cole setup by a great shot by Kessel buried it past Jones gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first. Malkin promising he’d deliver did just that. He tips a shot in from Letang on the power play to stake the Penguins to a 2-0 lead in the second. The Sharks dialed it up in the third. The Penguins responded with some great defense. But the Sharks Karlsson made it 2-1 at 8:07 of the third. That’s when the Penguins played stellar team defense. With some great work at the blue line Maatta not only prevents the puck from going into the zone he makes a nifty pass to Hagelin who found Fehr in stride and rifled one home. Penguins shut the door the rest of the way and win 3-1. They also take a 3-1 series lead and could, for the first time in team history, win the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.
The atmosphere was electric before Game 5 at Consol. Ticket prices were going into the upper stratosphere. The outdoor viewing outside of Consol was so large they had to shut one of the streets down. Should be a no brainer ? Well there is no such thing as a sure thing. Before the Penguins even dialed themselves into the game it was 2-0 Sharks with goals by Burns and Couture. The crowd was in complete disbelief. This can’t happen – not tonight ? Well the Penguins scored two goals 22 seconds apart by Malkin and Hagelin. The crowd was pumped. The Penguins were pouring shots at Jones. Came close to going on a post to post shot by Kessel. Then at 14:47 of the first with the Penguins flat footed Karlsson gets on in past Murray to give the Sharks a 3-2 lead. The pressure the Penguins applied was intense. But in the second and third they weren’t desperate. The Sharks got an easy empty net goal and the Penguins lost 4-2. It was probably one of the most heart wrenching home losses in the franchises history.
Paul Martin, the former Penguin, came out and said that the Penguins have blown several 3-1 leads in playoffs before. Well this thing called Karma has a way of coming back and biting people. One thing that the Penguins have done exceptionally well in these playoffs was bounce back after a loss. From the interviews I saw before Game 6, they had a look of determination that I had not seen from them before this year. I could almost picture them listening to Mike Sullivan like it was the great Herb Brooks giving his famous ‘Miracle’ speech. Or the chill that goes down your spine when you think of the famous text Mario sent to the 2009 Penguins before Game 7. “See you at center ice”. They played quite simply the best game of the playoffs.
Dumolin opened the scoring with a carefully timed shot from the point on the power play to make it 1-0 Penguins at 8:16. The Sharks Couture tied it at 6:27 of the second period. The Penguins did not sit on their heels. Letang playing with a steely determination received a insane pass from Crosby and buried it past Jones 1:16 seconds after the Sharks tied it. After that the Penguins speed and forechecking took over. With the Sharks pulling Jones, Crosby blocked a shot, got a pass to Hornqvist who puts in the the empty net at 18:58. The last 1:02 was the longest minute of the season. With the clock reaching zero, the Penguins radio announcer made the call “Get in the fast lane grandma, the bingo game is ready to roll. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 2016 Stanley Cup Champions!”.
Oh and by the way Paul Martin was on the ice for the game winning goal by Kris Letang. Thanks Paulie !
My wife and I had the pleasure of attending Game 4 of the ECF here in Tampa and went to Pittsburgh (two separate trips) to attend Games 1 & 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Crosby won the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP of the playoffs. The voting was extremely close with Crosby edging out Kessel.
The city of Pittsburgh welcomed the Penguins with the largest crowd every to attend a parade in Pittsburgh. My home town did it classy with zero arrests.
The Penguins were a literal MASH unit with Malkins elbow, Cullen playing with a broken toe, Bonnino playing with an infection in his elbow, Letang having minor surgery to have an infection cut out of his foot, and a Rust breaking a finger in Game 7.
- AHL Impact by @PensArmy_
What can I say? They changed our season. The impact of our young players coming from the AHL during the season has transformed our year. Dumoulin, Murray, Rust, Sheary and Kuhnhackl are among the players that have been recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. With the coaching change (from Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan), many new faces have appeared in the second half of the season. Sullivan was our head coach in the AHL, so it was easier for him to know these players.
Let’s start with Matt Murray. You know, the rookie goaltender. He has more playoffs games played than games played during the season. Oh yeah… He also has a Stanley Cup ring ! When Fleury had his first concussion, we called him up to play with Jeff Zatkoff. After the trade deadline, we recalled him. Fleury had his second concussion of the year and Murray played great. Despite his injury at the last game of the season, Matt came back in the third game of the playoffs (against NYR). He was our goaltender for the rest of the playoffs and we all know the end. Murray was solid !
Dumoulin was the surprise of the year in my opinion. It was his first NHL year. He played a complete game. After earning his spot with the team during the preseason, he ended the year with…Kris Letang ! Brian Dumoulin had a big impact on our team.
What about Sheary, Rust and Kuhnhackl? They were OUTSTANDING ! Without them, our team would not have been the same. Sheary was on Sid’s line and Rust, on Malkin’s line. Both gave speed on their respective lines. Kuhnhackl was more a defensive guy and he helped us A LOT ! He probably blocked a hundred shots this year for the Pens and killed big minutes on the penalty kill.
They all have scored big goals during the playoffs ! Dumoulin has the first goal in game 6 in San Jose (we won the Stanley Cup that night in a 3-1 win). Rust was our game 7 hero against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sheary scored the overtime goal in game 2 against the Sharks. Kuhnhackl has the game-winning goal (shorthanded) in the first game of the series against the Rangers. It can just be better next season !
We lost Wilson during the season due to an injury. This guy looked great ! Sprong will be available also. If the impact of our AHL players helped us this year, it will be interesting to see how better it is next season.
- Injury Impact by @LetsTalkPens
The Penguins were bit by the injury bug again this season.
Some of the major ones include Nick Bonino missing a little over a month. Eric Fehr missing the beginning of the year after surgery. Evgeni Malkin missing time twice. Beau Bennett missing over half the year. Marc-Andre Fleury got multiple concussions. Just to name a few.
As Pens Den mentioned, that’s when the AHL guys became prevolent. Also, it’s when the Penguins got a look into their future.
The Penguins still went on to win the Stanley Cup by testing their depth and realizing it’s just as good as you’d want.