NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sidney Crosby has been bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh to get another consecutive year. He is bringing yet another MVP trophy, also.
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 champion with a 2-0 triumph over the Nashville Predators in Game 6 on Sunday night.
The Penguins won their fifth name — all of these clinched on the street — to tie the Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-era Edmonton Oilers for sixth on the all-time record. The Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and’98 were the previous champion to defend their title. The Penguins would be the very first to do it.
“We knew it was going to be tough all year, but we only tried to keep with it,” Crosby said. “We had a lot of accidents and things like that. 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 go together with his third tournament. He headed the Final in scoring with one goal and six assists, including three at a 6-0 triumph in Game 5 that place the Penguins in the doorstep of some other title. Just teammate Evgeni Malkin (28 points) had more than Crosby’s 27 this postseason.
“You get a small window to play and have a profession,” Crosby said. “I feel blessed, but I also understand how hard it had been so you only want to attempt and 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 contested for goalie interference, however, the goal was upheld. With Pekka Rinne pulled for an extra attacker, Carl Hagelin set off a bench party with an empty netter with 13.6 seconds left.
“Obviously, it’s going to be the biggest goal I am going to score,” Hornqvist explained. “That is going to stand really near my heart”
All that was left was that the celebrating. Crosby took the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before handing the trophy off to veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey who passed it to veteran forward Matt Cullen.
Nashville lost for just the first time in regulation on home ice this postseason and this one had some tough luck. Colton Sissons needed a goal erased by a whistle 67 seconds into the second period. The Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, for example 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 at the third.
“It stings,” said defenseman P.K. Subban, brought within a trade stunner from the offseason and a foil for Crosby all sequence. “I believe the biggest thing we have got to choose from this is, remember the feeling. That is what is going to drive . …. We are going to be back again next year.”
Forget a gold anniversary: The Penguins will cap their 50th year with their names on the most well-known silver cup in sport — again. It’s also the third championship for Crosby and a small number of teammates in the 2009 name team, surpassing the two won by the Penguins teams led by present owner Mario Lemieux in the 1990s.
And it is the second championship in 18 months for coach Mike Sullivan, who has yet to eliminate a playoff series since taking more than Mike Johnston has been fired. Sullivan is the first American-born coach to win the Cup not once, but twice.
“It’s been an amazing year from the beginning, trying to replicate,” Lemieux said. “A lot of these guys played injured in the playoffs and revealed a great deal of character. Obviously, Sid being the best player in the world again and winning the Conn Smythe. He was our leader and picked up the group 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 did not play enough games to get that label eliminated. That’s something neither Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Cam Ward actually handled, but the 23-year-old Murray finished this Final shutting out Nashville to the last 146:52. He set a rookie record with two shutouts in the Final.
“What an adventure,” 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 town — and the league.
Having won just three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville opened this postseason by removing the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in four matches. In doing so, the Predators became the first eighth-seeded group to sweep a first-round show because the current playoff format was introduced in 1994. Nashville went through St. Louis and Anaheim to the Final, where only captain Mike Fisher on the roster had ever played before.
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 up things, however, the Penguins hauled Nashville to install Game 6.
The Penguins ruined Nashville’s large party on the final night of CMA Music Festival, which attracted over 100,000 to downtown Nashville. Country celebrity Luke Bryan serenaded fans from the rooftop of a honky-tonk at a performance that kicked off the tv broadcast, and he also sang a four-song place for fans inside and outside the arena an hour before face-off.
Religion Hill became the latest to sing the national anthem together with husband, star Tim McGraw, giving her a hug once completed before putting a towel in each hand. At least five catfish hit the ice before the face-off.
Subsequently a series that hadn’t featured even a single one-goal game went scoreless during the first 58 minutes. The Predators thought they had the primary aim of the game, just as they did in Game 1 at Pittsburgh, simply 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 net 67 seconds into the second period behind Murray’s back. Officials huddled, but the goal wasn’t allowed.
Murray also ceased Sissons on a breakaway midway through the second and gloved a shot from Viktor Arvidsson afterwards in the period. The Penguins also murdered off 32 minutes of a 5-on-3 at 8:47 of the third 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 accompanied with a rescue on Arvidsson.
“We never gave up,” Fisher said. “We lost a lot of guys to injuries. Sixteen seed. Nobody gave us a chance against anybody and here we are in Game 6. Things didn’t go our way, but that happens. That is sport. Like I said, this team never gave up. We believed all the way.”
This tournament season for the Penguins lacked a number of the play from one year before, but it was far from a slam dunk. Washington won the President’s Trophy for a second consecutive season and pushed Pittsburgh to seven matches in the next round. Ottawa did exactly the same thing, forcing the Penguins to double overtime to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
Crosby, Malkin and many others played in the World Cup of Hockey before the season, which makes this an even longer year than normal. In the end, the Penguins had more than enough in the tank to bring home another name.
“We’ve got a collection of men who understand what it takes to acquire,” Crosby said.
Lemieux won the Conn Smythe in 1992 and 1992, and Bernie Parent was the very first to win the MVP trophy in consecutive years in 1974 and 1975. … Murray is the first goalie with 2 shutouts in a single Cup Final since Boston’s Tim Thomas and Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo had two apiece in 2011. … Nashville completed the show going 0 of 8 on the power play over the last two matches. … Grammy winners Cage that the Elephant performed through the second intermission after playing Bonnaroo on Friday night.
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