It took seven years, to the day in fact, but the wait is over — on Sunday, the Penguins became champions once again with a 3-1 win over San Jose in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Fittingly, it was Crosby who played a key role in the winning goal.
He set up Kris Letang at the 7:43 mark of the second period, and Letang’s sharp angle shot squeaked through Martin Jones, less than 90 seconds after Logan Couture had erased Brian Dumoulin‘s opening tally.
Patric Hornqvist scored the insurance marker into an empty net with 1:02 remaining.
With his goal, Letang became part of an elite group of Penguins. He, Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis and Max Talbot have scored the four Cup-winning goals in franchise history.
Letang almost didn’t have the chance to go down in Pittsburgh lore, however.
With Martin Jones standing on his head — again — the Sharks were able to hang around for entirety of tonight’s contest despite — again — being out-shot and out-possessed.
This dynamic was perhaps no better illustrated that in the second period, when Jones somehow kept Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz from converting on a wide open 2-on-1:
(To be fair, Kunitz and Malkin did their own part in keeping the puck out.)
With Jones playing the role of hero, San Jose was given a stay of execution in the late stages of the second period, and most of the third. But the Sharks were unable to get anything past Matt Murray, the rookie netminder that stood tall after a shaky effort in Game 5.
A big reason why?
They couldn’t get any shots on goal.
After a strong second frame in which they fired 13 shots on Murray and scored their lone goal, the Sharks went dead silent in the third, registering just two SOG.
Pittsburgh’s speed and stifling team defense deserves major credit for silencing the San Jose attack. The Sharks had major problems getting anything through the neutral zone, a problem that dogged them throughout the series.
As such, the Sharks will probably look back on this final with mixed emotions. Onlookers never got the sense they saw the true San Jose team in this final, as Pittsburgh dictated how things went right from the opening puck drop of Game 1.
Still, there are positives to be taken.
This was the deepest and most prolific playoff run in the franchise’s 25-year history, and the Sharks got breakout performances from Jones and Joonas Donskoi, who was arguably the team’s best skater.
For the Penguins? It was pure elation.
After a mediocre start to the year, a coaching change and a series of trades, Pittsburgh caught fire and was clearly the NHL’s top team — well deserving of Lord Stanley’s Mug. A new young star emerged in goal with Murray, and a patchwork defense featuring the likes of Justin Schultz, Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin held strong in the face of some serious competition.
But in the end, though, it was Pittsburgh’s stars that got the job done. Crosby to Letang for the game-winner, and the Pens were back atop the hockey world.