The Pittsburgh Penguins have completed the ultimate goal in the NHL by winning Game 6 Sunday night of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Nashville Predators and ending the final series by a score of 4-2.
After both teams went scoreless for almost all of regulation, Pittsburgh was finally able to draw first blood when Patric Hornqvist scored with just over a minute and a half left in the game. With the goaltender pulled, Carl Hagelin sealed a victory for the Penguins with his empty-net goal with 14 seconds remaining in the game. The Penguins topped the Predators by a final score of 2-0 and won their fifth Stanley Cup in the history of the franchise. Pittsburgh also became the first team since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in the NHL.
Plenty of history was made during this finals run, but Penguins' Captain Sidney Crosby led the charge all playoffs long and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. As the playoff MVP, Crosby finished with eight goals and 19 assists during this year's playoff run. Despite finishing with fewer playoff points than teammate Evgeni Malkin, the league still felt he deserved the award for his consistent play throughout the playoffs.
Malkin may have led the league in playoff points, but at times went through spurts where he was unable to create offense throughout the course of the game. Crosby, on the other hand, continued to make plays with the puck consistently, even when his teammates were unable to convert his passes. Crosby now joins Penguins President Mario Lemieux and former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent as the only players to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive seasons.
Another reason to give Crosby the trophy is the part he played in the emergence of rookie winger Jake Guentzel. Guentzel led the league in goals scored during the playoffs with 13 and also tallied eight assists. Guentzel finished just one goal short of the NHL record for most goals by a rookie during the Stanley Cup Playoffs behind only Dino Ciccarelli, who finished with 14. At the age of 22, Guentzel helped surge the top line of the Penguins late in the regular season and throughout the playoffs, leaving many to wonder if he would be given the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports wrote about Guentzel's role in the Penguins' playoff run and quoted him on his thoughts following the win.
"I think I almost jumped through the roof. I mean dreams come true. You think about that your whole life. To do it in front of my parents it's something I'll never forget."
Another player who deserves recognition in the Penguins' repeat as Stanley Cup Champions is goaltender Matt Murray. Murray was injured during warmups of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and was unable to return until Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Upon his return, Murray would go on to win six of the Penguins' final nine games on their way to a Stanley Cup victory. Half of Murray's victories also ended with a shutout, which led all goaltenders throughout the playoffs. At the age of just 23, Murray looks to be the anchor of the Penguins goal for many years to come. With veteran goaltender Marc Andre-Fleury likely leaving this offseason, Murray will finally feel like it is his time to take over full-time in the Penguins net.
Despite the shuffling of goaltenders throughout the season, the Penguins' goalies were able to share a special moment on the ice together after winning the Stanley Cup. Marc Andre-Fleury handed Matt Murray the cup instead of many of the other veteran teammates on the team, symbolizing the passing of the torch from one goaltender to the next. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about what to do with Murray and Fleury this offseason and quoted Murray on what Fleury has meant to him during their time together in Pittsburgh.
"He's been a really important mentor for me. He's been so supportive over the last couple years. There's no way I'm able to play as freely as I have been without Flower being there to support me."
The Pittsburgh Penguins parade with the Cup will take place Wednesday, June 14th at 11 a.m. Eastern time.
[Featured Image by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]