The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions for the fourth time in franchise history.
The Pens secured hockey’s ultimate prize with a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks Sunday night. Brian Dumoulin got Pittsburgh on the board first with a goal 8:16 into the first period, staking a lead that would stand through the first frame but not much longer. Logan Couture netted the equalizer for the Sharks at 6:17 of the second, giving San Jose new life in their attempt to stave off elimination and send the series back to Pittsburgh for a deciding Game 7.
The Pens made sure it wasn’t to be, however.
Kris Letang put the Pens ahead for good just over a minute later, beating San Jose goaltender Martin Jones at 7:46 of the second period. The goal was Letang’s third of the playoffs to cap a night in which he was remarkable in all facets of the game.
The back and forth action has Pens fans on pins and needles for the remainder of the contest until Patric Hornqvist sealed the deal for Pittsburgh with an empty netter with just over a minute to play that would set off the celebration.
Goaltender Matt Murray was again brilliant between the pipes, stopping 18 of 19 shots on the way to tying the NHL record for most playoff wins by a rookie netminder. Pens captain Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
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When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed the trophy over to Crosby it was a moment of pure joy for these Penguins, dubbed by many to be long out of the playoff picture let alone Cup contention at the midway point of the season. But after one of the most remarkable half-season resurgences in recent sports history, there they were celebrating on the SAP Center ice, the last team standing after sports’ most grueling playoff battle.
The storylines on this club are infinite – from head coach Mike Sullivan who was behind the bench for the Pens’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to start the season before a mid-year change gave him a second chance as an NHL coach ten years removed from his previous stint, to Phil Kessel, the subject of much criticism this season after a slow start had many questioning the offseason deal that put him in black and gold but the Pens’ most productive player during the championship run.
In perhaps the most touching moment of the celebration Pens’ winger Pascal Dupuis, forced to end his playing days earlier in the year after multiple blood clots, donned his uniform and skates one more time and hoisted the Cup alongside his teammates.
The Pens will travel home to Pittsburgh Monday, Stanley Cup in tow, certain to be met by throngs of impassioned fans who again are able to call Pittsburgh the City of Champions. Details on a celebratory parade have yet to be released by city officials, but it is expected to take place mid-week.