For the second straight year, the Stanley Cup is heading to Pittsburgh, after the Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 2-0 in Game 6 of the Final on Sunday.
Pittsburgh became the first team in the salary cap era to win consecutive Cups, and the first since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-1998. Captain Sidney Crosby was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner once again, becoming the first player to win the playoff MVP award in back-to-back years since Mario Lemieux.
1. Crosby’s legacy
— NHL (@NHL) June 12, 2017
Fifteen months ago, Sidney Crosby was snubbed for the NHL All-Star Game.
Crosby, who increasingly heard people say that he wasn’t as great a player or leader as Jonathan Toews, had 31 points in 39 games at that time. While he wasn’t enjoying his best season to be sure, it was telling that the league didn’t find a way to fit its best player in for the marquee mid-season event.
Since then, Crosby has done everything possible to shut up his critics. He scored 54 points in the remaining 42 games that season, then ripped it up in the playoffs. He’s won two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Trophies since as well.
He also was quite clearly the best player at the World Cup of Hockey, helping Canada to a dominant tournament win, and being named MVP.
He might lose the Hart Trophy to Connor McDavid next week, but he’ still the best player in the game.
2. Malkin underrated
2nd year in a row 🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/1CLiqPQUM7
— Евгений Малкин (@malkin71_) June 12, 2017
Evgeni Malkin has won as many Stanley Cups as Crosby, of course, and has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name also.
The big Russian centre led the playoffs in scoring for the second time in his career this spring, piling up 36 points in 24 games. Crosby gets most of the attention, as he should, but Malkin is quite clearly one of the best of his generation as well.
Seems like he should have been included in the NHL’s Top 100 list now, doesn’t it?
3. Doing it without Letang
— Matt Freed (@mattfreedpghpg) June 12, 2017
Despite winning for a second straight year, the Pens were somewhat of a dark horse winner this year.
Just look at their defence.
The six D who dressed for PIT in the Cup Final have never received a Norris vote. First time a champion has done it.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 12, 2017
It’s not often that a team with an unheralded group on the back end wins the Stanley Cup. Without Kris Letang, who missed the entire playoffs with an injury, this was the least impressive defence to win the Cup since Carolina in 2006.
4. Worth the wait for Hainsey
— NHL (@NHL) June 12, 2017
One of those unheralded d-men was 36-year-old veteran Ron Hainsey. Not only had Hainsey never won the Cup before, ahead of this season, he had never played in a playoff game.
Certainly, it was worth the wait for the veteran of 907 NHL regular season games with Montreal, Columbus, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Carolina, and Pittsburgh.
5. Fleury/Murray respect
Fleury passes the cup to Murray. What a moment! pic.twitter.com/oeyE6qbiWo
— Benstonium (@Benstonium) June 12, 2017
With just one net to play in, it could have gotten very uncomfortable for Penguins goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray.
Fleury, the veteran, was surpassed by Murray last season. With Murray injured to start the playoffs, Fleury got his chance and was superb.
Still, Murray retook the net in the Conference Final and Fleury sat for the remainder of the playoffs.
That’s why when Fleury chose to pass the Cup to Murray – who is still technically a rookie – it spoke volumes.
“Flower’s the biggest reason why we even got here,” Murray said in a live interview on Hockey Night in Canada. “He’s been a special person for me, a huge mentor. The fact that he passed me the Cup there – my rank is way down at the bottom – I got it ahead of some of the older guys and that’s because Flower handed it to me. I have to say, that’s one of the most special moments of my life.”
"Matt is the goalie of the future for this team, I think it was important for him to celebrate tonight.” – Fleury on passing Cup to Murray
— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) June 12, 2017
With Vegas entering the league, the Pens will only get to keep one of their star goaltenders. This was likely one of Fleury’s last moments with the only team he’s ever known.
6. Cullen going out on top
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) June 12, 2017
Matt Cullen is 40 years old and just won his second straight Stanley Cup. It’s the third Cup of his career.
After the game, he said that he’ll probably retire. What a way to go out.
7. Bonino played on broken leg
— Nick Bonino (@NickBonino) June 12, 2017
Former Canucks and Ducks centre Nick Bonino is now a two-time Cup champion. He didn’t have the same imprint on his team’s championship as last year, but he did share an incredible tale.
He hadn’t played since Game 2 of the series because of an unknown injury. He revealed on Sunday that it was a broken tibia “busted all the way through.”
“Played on it, just for two periods,” Bonino casually told Hockey Night in Canada. What a hockey player.
8. Kessel and Schultz are winners
Phil Kessel is a Stanley Cup champion… Again. pic.twitter.com/So5B0AStfD
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 12, 2017
This has to be sweet satisfaction for Phil Kessel and Justin Schultz.
Both players joined the Pens last season. They were known for their talent, but weren’t considered ‘winners.’ Well, they’ve both shed that rep, with authority.
Kessel was third in playoff scoring, while Schultz filled in for the injured Letang admirably. Only Erik Karlsson and Roman Josi scored more points from the back end than did Schultz in these playoffs.
9. Hornqvist haunts old team
Best friends and goal scorers in Game Six. These two are on top of the world. pic.twitter.com/QfRCn1zYGo
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 12, 2017
I guess the Pens won the trade? Patric Hornqvist, who was traded by the Predators for James Neal three years ago, stuck it to his former team.
The gritty Swede scored the winning goal with 1:35 left in the third period in Game 6. Both Hornqvist, who missed most of the Conference Final against Ottawa with an injury, and Neal finished with two points (a goal and an assist) in the Final.
10. Just touch the damn trophy
2016: omg Crosby touched the Prince of Wales trophy they're going to lose
2017: omg he touched it again they'll definitely lose this time pic.twitter.com/Cft9kVT9HI
— Tori (@torifadeley) June 12, 2017
Hockey is filled with great traditions, but not touching the Conference Final trophy isn’t one of them.
Thankfully, Crosby is changing that.
Touching the Conference Final trophy has been considered a jinx. Always superstitious, hockey players have erred on the side of caution, usually choosing not to touch it.
Making it to the Cup Final is a huge accomplishment and players definitely celebrate it. What’s the difference if you touch the trophy of not? In recent years we’ve seen teams not touch the trophy, but take pictures with it.
Hopefully teams in the future can celebrate the Conference Final trophies, and go ahead and hoist them. The Pens lost the Cup Final in 2008 when Crosby chose not to touch the trophy, but won in 2009, 2016 and this year after lifting the Prince of Wales Trophy.
There’s no jinx, guys.
11. Booing Bettman
Few things sound sweeter than an entire arena booing Gary Bettman. #StanleyCup
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) June 12, 2017
Finally, a tip of the cap to the fans in Nashville. They were great all playoffs, as has been well documented, and they proved their hockey know-how when Gary Bettman hit the ice.
They booed and they booed. And then they booed some more.
Now that’s a great hockey tradition.