Monday, June 12, 2017

Penguins Emerge Late, Raise Back to Back Cups

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Typically at the end of movie scripts that include the power struggles of good vs. evil, the good guys always seem to prevail.

With 1:35 left in a decisive Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist flipped the script to the rest of the NHL and returned the league's most spited team, along with the most hated player, back to the promise land.

On Sunday, the Penguins became the first team in the salary cap era (19 years) to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions with a 2-0 victory against the Nashville Predators.

Hornqvist's goal, taken from behind the net and banked in off the back of Predators G Pekka Rinne, gave the Penguins what was eventually the game winning goal in a game where virtually nobody outside of Pittsburgh city limits wanted to see them prevail.

In an interview with Yahoo! (which can be found here) following the game, the game six hero had this to say on the goal that brought a fifth Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh:

“[Schultz] got it to the net, missed the net. I just tried to bank it in off Rinne and it worked. Eh, [expletive] it,” said Hornqvist
With Hornqvist's goal and an empty netter by Carl Hagelin with 14 seconds left, the usually rambunctious Bridgestone Arena quickly took the form of a library with sights on a game seven fading away.

Up until Sunday night, each team that took the ice at home emerged victorious. Game six provided a perfect snapshot of the series: Gritty, intense, and controversial.

Early in the second period with a still scoreless game, Penguins net-minder Matt Murray was believed to have stopped a shot coming from his right side and thus had a whistle blew by an official to stop play.

Or so the official thought.

The whistle effectively stopped Nashville's momentum, and kept the score at zeros. The call, after it went to review and was upheld, will stand in Nashville sports lore as "what could have been" and will be the talk around the Predators for a very long time.

Contrary to popular belief, however, that no call was not singularly responsible for a victory parade to be planned in Pittsburgh, as Nashville failed to convert on a single of their four power-play opportunities, including a 5-3 man advantage late in the game. Although Murray and Rinne played phenomenal, a puck had to sneak past one of the two.

To the dismay of Smashville, Rinne was the first- and only, to do so.

For the Penguins, who held Nashville scoreless for both games five and six while scoring eight goals of their own, it took a tough performance by a team riddled by the injury bug. Defensemen Kris Letang was missing from the lineup since April with a herniated disc, and forward Nick Bonino last saw action in game two as he revealed he had suffered a broken tibia.

It was a memorable run by Pittsburgh in the 2017 playoffs, as Head Coach Mike Sullivan guided this team past a hot and young Columbus squad, through a regular season juggernaut in Washington and around a well oiled Ottawa team en route to winning a title against a strong Nashville group. It was a run where everybody contributed, from the stars (Conn Smythe Winner Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Kessel) to the bottom liners.

Talks of a three-peat have already begun, but will be even harder to pull off than winning back-to-backs. For now, Pittsburgh will enjoy it's fifth gift from Lord Stanley. Many questions surround the Penguins moving into the off-season: What will the fate of Marc-Andre Fleury tell? Who will Pittsburgh lose to the expansion draft, retirement and free agency?

While these questions will need to be addressed at some point in the future, only one thing is on the mind of the city of champions:

It's time to plan a parade.

For news on everything in the world of sports, or just to tell him all referees play for the Penguins, follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin 

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