NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sidney Crosby is bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh to get a second consecutive year. He is bringing yet another MVP trophy, too.
Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 left and Matt Murray made 27 saves for his second straight shutout as the Penguins became the first group in nearly two decades to repeat as winner with a 2-0 triumph over the Nashville Predators in Game 6 on Sunday night.
The Penguins won their fifth title — all of these clinched on the road — to tie the Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-era Edmonton Oilers for sixth on the all-time list. The Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and’98 were the previous winner to defend their title. The Penguins would be the first to do it.
“We knew that it was going to be tough all year, but we just tried to keep with it,” Crosby said. “We had a great deal of accidents and things like this. We just kept discovering ways. That was actually what we did all year long, all playoffs. It is great to be able to do it.”
Crosby also became just the third player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive years since the Stanley Cup MVP to move along with his third tournament. He led the Closing in scoring with one goal and six assists, including three in a 6-0 triumph in Game 5 that put the Penguins in the doorstep of another title. Only teammate Evgeni Malkin (28 points) had over Crosby’s 27 this postseason.
“You get a little window to perform and have a career,” Crosby said. “I feel fortunate, but I also understand how hard it was you just want to attempt to create the best of it.”
Hornqvist scored off Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s left elbow, the former Predator silencing the raucous audience that had stood for extended moments and flung a couple more catfish, too. Nashville challenged for goalie interference, however, the goal was upheld. Together with Pekka Rinne pulled for an excess attacker, Carl Hagelin set off a seat party with an empty netter with 13.6 seconds left.
“Obviously, it is going to be the biggest goal I’m going to score,” Hornqvist explained. “That is always going to stand very close to my heart.”
All that was left was the celebrating. Crosby took the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before committing off the trophy to veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey who passed it to veteran forward Matt Cullen.
Nashville lost for just the first time in law on home ice this postseason and this one had some tough luck. Colton Sissons needed a target erased by a whistle 67 minutes into the second period. The Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third.
“It stings,” said defenseman P.K. Subban, brought over in a trade stunner in the offseason and a transparency for Crosby all sequence. “I believe the biggest thing we have got to choose from this is, don’t forget the sensation. That’s what’s going to drive us. …. We are going to be back here again next year.”
Forget a golden anniversary: The Penguins will cap their 50th year with their titles on the most well-known silver cup in sport . It is also the third tournament for Crosby plus a handful of teammates from the 2009 title team, surpassing the two won by the Penguins teams led by current owner Mario Lemieux from the 1990s.
And it is the second championship in 18 months for coach Mike Sullivan, who has yet to lose a playoff series since taking over after Mike Johnston was terminated. Sullivan is your first American-born coach to win the Cup not once, but twice.
“It has been an amazing year from the beginning, trying to repeat,” Lemieux said. “A lot of these guys played injured in the playoffs and showed a lot of character. Of course, Sid being the best player in the world again and again winning the Conn Smythe. He was our leader and picked up the team once we needed it”
Murray became the first goalie to win not one, but two Stanley Cups as a rookie after being a late-season call up a year ago who didn’t play enough matches to get that label removed. That’s something Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Cam Ward ever managed, but the 23-year-old Murray completed this Closing shutting out Nashville for the final 146:52. He set a rookie record with two shutouts in the Closing.
“What an experience,” he explained. “It will not get any better.”
The loss ended the upstart Predators’ deepest playoff series within their 19-year history and one which became the talk of the town — and the league.
Having won only three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville started this postseason by removing the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in four games. In doing so, the Predators became the primary eighth-seeded team to sweep a first-round series because the current playoff format was introduced in 1994. Nashville went through St. Louis and Anaheim to the Final, where just captain Mike Fisher on the roster had ever played .
The stingy Predators found Pittsburgh was up to the job, with the Penguins taking the first two games on home ice. Nashville roared back at home to even things up, but the Penguins hauled Nashville to set up Game 6.
The Penguins ruined Nashville’s large party on the last night of CMA Music Festival, which attracted over 100,000 to downtown Nashville. Country star Luke Bryan serenaded fans from the rooftop of a honky-tonk in a performance that kicked off the tv broadcast, and he also sang a four-song set for lovers inside and outside the arena an hour before face-off.
Religion Hill became the newest to sing the national anthem together with husband, star Tim McGraw, giving her a hug once finished before waving a towel in each hand. At least five catfish struck the ice before the face-off.
Subsequently a series that hadn’t featured even a single one-goal game went scoreless through the first 58 minutes. The Predators thought they had the first goal of the game, just as they did in Game 1 in Pittsburgh, only to have referee Kevin Pollock tide it off immediately. He’d whistled the play dead when he lost sight of the puck with Murray about the ice between him and the puck.
Sissons tapped the puck into the web 67 minutes into the second time behind Murray’s back. Officials huddled, but the goal was not allowed.
Murray also ceased Sissons on a breakaway midway through the second and gloved a shot out of Viktor Arvidsson later in the interval. The Penguins also murdered off 32 minutes of a 5-on-3 at 8:47 of the next after Trevor Daley hit Ryan Ellis with Olli Maatta already in the box for tripping. Murray made a big stop on a shot by Mattias Ekholm followed with a rescue on Arvidsson.
“We never gave up,” Fisher stated. “We dropped a lot of guys to injuries. Sixteen seed. No one gave us a chance against anybody and here we’re in Game 6. Things did not go our way, but that occurs. That’s sport. Like I said, this group never gave up. We thought all the way.”
This championship season for the Penguins lacked some of the drama from one year before, but it was far from a slam dunk. Washington won the President’s Trophy for a second straight season and pushed Pittsburgh to seven games in the next round. Ottawa did the exact same thing, forcing the Penguins to double overtime to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
Crosby, Malkin and many others also played at the World Cup of Hockey prior to the season, which makes this an even more year than usual. In the long run, the Penguins had more than enough in the tank to bring home another name.
“We’ve got a selection of men who know what it takes to win,” Crosby said.
Lemieux won the Conn Smythe in 1992 and 1992, and Bernie Parent was the first to win the MVP trophy in consecutive years in 1974 and 1975. … Murray is the first goalie with two shutouts in a single Cup Final because Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo had two apiece in 2011. … Nashville finished the show going 0 of 8 on the power play over the final two games. … Grammy winners Cage that the Elephant performed through the next intermission after playing Bonnaroo on Friday night.
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