The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first team in the salary cap era and the first team since the Detroit Red Wings 1997-98 to win Stanley Cups in back-to-back seasons. Although these past 2 seasons are ones that both the fans and the players will never forget, there are always those defining moments; the moments that stand out. As we look forward to the 2017-18 season, I decided to count down my top 10 moments that defined back-to-back Stanley Cups for the Pittsburgh Penguins. I attempted to rank them based on importance, timeliness, and when they occurred (1st round, 2nd round, ECF, SCF), but all 10 moments were certainly crucial to the Penguins’ back-to-back Cup wins. Enjoy!
#10: Jonathan Drouin’s No Goal
This is a moment that may be forgotten by some, but it leads off my top 10 defining moments of back-to-back Stanley Cups for the Penguins. The Penguins had just lost a heart-breaker in game 5 at home after Mike Sullivan decided to start Marc-Andre Fleury over Matt Murray. The Penguins then traveled to Tampa Bay in a must-win game 6, and Sullivan went back to Murray. Just minutes into the game, Jonathan Drouin scored what was thought to be the opening goal. At that moment, all of the momentum and confidence seemed to be going the Lightning’s way. Then, Sullivan and the coaching staff challenged the play for offsides. The goal was overturned, giving the Penguins a much-needed break. The Penguins would storm back and win game 6 comfortably, 5-2, and eventually would win game 7 at home to advance to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. What if the Penguins never challenged? There’s no way to tell, but I truly do not believe they win game 6 without that no goal call.
#9: Jake Guentzel Nets Hat Trick/Game Winner in OT
The Penguins had a 2-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets, but knew they were in for a tough game 3 with the Blue Jackets’ back against the wall at home. The Penguins did not play nearly as well in game 3 as they did in games 1 and 2, but Jake Guentzel led the way with not 1, not 2, but 3 goals, including the OT game-winner to give the Penguins a commanding 3-0 series lead. This clearly deflated the Blue Jackets’ confidence, and although they would battle back to win game 4, the Penguins ended up taking the series in 5 games en route to their 2017 Stanley Cup victory.
#8: Murray’s 47 Saves Give Penguins 2-1 Series Lead
After splitting games 1 and 2 with the Capitals in Washington in round 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins returned home for game 3 looking to take a 2-1 series lead. They were successful in doing so behind the heroics of Murray, who stopped 47 of the Capitals’ 49 shots on goal. This was a game that the Capitals dominated, and a game that should not have gone the Penguins’ way. But Murray was sharp and at his best, and was able to stand strong the whole game and allowed his team to protect the 3-0 lead they established in the 2nd period.
#7: Mr. Game 7: Bryan Rust
Bryan Rust became a Pittsburgh hero, as he notched both of the Penguins’ goals in the Eastern Conference Finals of 2016 game 7 against the Lightning. Rust was one of the “Wilkes Guys” brought up in the middle of the season, and he had a major impact on the Penguins winning both of their Stanley Cups, but none bigger than single handedly winning game 7 for the Penguins, allowing them to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
#6: Crosby Nets His First OT Winner in Playoffs
Sidney Crosby, very surprisingly, had never scored an OT game-winner in the playoffs in his career. But game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals changed that, as he gave the Penguins a must-needed game 2 win. The Penguins lost game 1 of this series, and would have put themselves in a huge hole by going down 2-0 and having to play the next 2 games in Tampa Bay. However, Crosby and the Penguins were able to come out on top in game 2, and would go on to win the series in 7 games.
#5: The Kris Letang Shift
It was game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Kris Letang had one of the best shifts that we will see from a defenseman in the NHL. Letang dances and dekes through the entire San Jose Sharks team, skates around the net, and scores on a near impossible angle to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead. The goal would hold up as the game-winning goal of not only game 6, but the Stanley Cup game-winner, and it was a beauty. If this shift does not convince you that Kris Letang is a top 5 defenseman in this league, I don’t know what will.
#4: Marc-Andre Fleury Robs Alex Ovechkin
Although Fleury was eventually pulled in favor of Murray in the Eastern Conference Finals, he was the sole reason that this team made it through the first 2 rounds of the playoffs, especially in the series against Washington. In 2009, you may recall that Fleury absolutely robbed Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway in game 7, leading to an eventual 6-2 Penguins win. Fleury once again got the best of Ovechkin in a game 7, making an unreal stick save that preserved the Penguins’ 1-0 lead, which would turn into a 2-0 victory. Fleury’s reaction to the save and the smile on his face says it all. He will be missed in Pittsburgh, but he will never be forgotten.
#3: Hornqvist Scores Late 3rd Period Goal
Patric Hornqvist may not be the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but my goodness is he the heart and soul of this team. Hornqvist had been playing almost the entire 2017 playoffs with a broken hand. As a result, he did not see his normal minutes or his normal production. But what better way to come through than late in the 3rd period in a Stanley Cup clinching game against your former team in the most Hornqvist way possible: crashing the net and picking up the loose change. It was a goal that not only won the Penguins their 2nd Stanley Cup in as many years, but it showed the Penguins and fans everywhere exactly why Jim Rutherford acquired the guy in his first move as the Penguins’ general manager.
#2: BONINO BONINO BONINO
I must have watched this goal over 100 times, and it just never gets old. The Penguins had a 3-0 lead in game 6 in what looked to be a game destined for a blowout, but the Capitals responded with 3 unanswered goals and forced an overtime. Many believe that if the Capitals had won this game in OT that the Penguins would not have beat Washington in game 7. Although there is no way of knowing, I cannot disagree. But luckily Nick Bonino spoiled that “what if” scenario, as the best line of the 2016 Stanley Cup run, the HBK line, produced a goal that gave the Penguins a series win against the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals team.
#1: Chris Kunitz’s OT Winner Sends Pens to Final
Chris Kunitz was brought to the Penguins at the trade deadline of 2008-09 season. Since that point, he became a mainstay on Crosby’s line for many years until these past 2 years where he had seen his role decreased. Although many Penguins’ fans were not so fond of Kunitz towards the end of his tenure with the Penguins, he gave us an unforgettable moment in his last season with the team as he provided the 2OT game winner in game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, and got to walk away from it all hoisting his 4th Stanley Cup.