Back to Back

They did it.

Oh my God.

They did it.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are back to back Stanley Cup champions.

There are times that you just want to pause life & cherish the moment forever.

This is one of those times.

We just witnessed history.

The first defense to win without a Norris vote getter.

The most points by a rookie in Stanley Cup playoff history.

The second coach ever to win back to back championships to start his tenure.

The first rookie goaltender to win two Stanley Cups.

The first back to back Conn Smythe winner since 1992.

The first back to back champions since 1998.

This was truly a special team.

Last year, the Penguins rolled through the playoffs.

This year, they scratched and clawed every inch of the way.

First, they battled a heated and motivated rival in the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Moments before game one, Matt Murray went down with an injury in warmups.

Luckily, the Penguins had held onto their other Stanley Cup winning goalie.

Marc-Andre Fleury would be the story of game one.

He stole the game from the Blue Jackets.

Little did we know, Fleury would soon be the story of the first two rounds.

The other story would be the Penguins newest super rookie.

At only 22 years old, Guentzel recorded a hat trick in the playoffs.

This was just foreshadowing of the history he would soon achieve.

The Penguins won the series 4-1 and would face the best team in the playoffs.

A team that they so desperately wanted to play again.

When they could’ve griped, the Penguins embraced the nonsensical playoff format.

They were the second best team in the league, yet they would face off against the President’s Trophy winners in round two.

The Capitals dominated the majority of the play, but it didn’t matter.

Marc-Andre Fleury was playing the best hockey of his career.

He stole three victories, and gave the Penguins a 3-1 series lead.

It looked like the Penguins would cruise into their second straight ECF.

And in the blink of an eye, the series was knotted at three.

The Penguins would face their first elimination game of the playoffs.

All of the momentum was against them.

All of the numbers said they had no chance.

It looked like the two-year fairytale was finally coming to an end.

And then the defending Stanley Cup champions showed up.

Out of nowhere, the Penguins flipped a switch.

Winning the Stanley Cup once is a rarity.

Winning the Stanley Cup twice in a row is nearly impossible.

If you’re going to start a dynasty, you’ve got to have a few championship moments.

The Penguins had their first of their quest to repeat in game seven.

Sensing the urgency, this resilient squad played their best game of the playoffs.

They carried the play for most of the night.

Bryan Rust solidified his status as “Mr. Game 7” in the face of Justin Williams.

Marc-Andre Fleury shined once again and shut out the regular season champs.

The Flower gave us one of the most memorable moments of the playoffs.

In the biggest game of the year, Fleury personified what made him a Pittsburgh icon.

With everything on the line, Fleury robbed Ovechkin and celebrated as only he can.

I’ll never forget that French-Canadian grin.

The Penguins, somehow, were on their way to the Eastern Conference Final.

With the Capitals out of the way, it seemed like it would be all downhill from there.

Ottawa was hardly the team that Washington was.

Right?

How naive were we to underestimate a team riding so much momentum?

The Senators came out and stole game one.

Suddenly, a trip to the Cup final didn’t seem like a sure thing.

The Penguins would edge out a 1-0 victory to tie the series.

However, the Senators weren’t discouraged.

They chased Marc-Andre Fleury in game three and ended his playoff run.

They led the series 2-1 and held all of the momentum in the series.

Enter 23 year old Matt Murray.

His calming demeanor is like nothing we’ve ever seen from a young goalie.

He’d surrender only four goals in his next three games.

The Penguins faced their second consecutive game seven.

It was an absolute war.

With time dwindling in the third period, the game remained tied at one.

It seemed like the next goal would be the winner.

With a little more than eight minutes left, Justin Schultz scored that goal.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be enough to send the Penguins to the Finals.

Only a few minutes later, Ryan Dzingel put that sick feeling back in my stomach.

The Penguins would need overtime to punch their ticket to the main event.

Every bounce critical.

Every shot with the chance to be fatal.

The Penguins were the better team all game, but that didn’t matter now.

Twenty teeth-grinding minutes came and went.

We still didn’t have an Eastern Conference champion.

Eastern Conference Final.

Game Seven.

Double overtime.

The difference between glory and heartbreak could be a fraction of an inch.

These moments are what make playoff hockey so unique.

The game could be over in an instant.

There’s no other overtime quite like it in sports.

Five minutes into the anxiety-filled double OT, an old connection was rekindled.

The duo that had been so prominent throughout Penguins history, had struck one more time.

Since arriving from Anaheim, no one embodies a championship mentality like Chris Kunitz.

Never flashy and often the one to do the dirty work, Chris Kunitz always did whatever his team needed to win when it mattered most.

The Penguins were Eastern Conference champions for the second straight year.

They had already accomplished an incredible feat by returning to the Final.

You would have never known that by the way they acted though.

There was no giant celebration.

There was no patting themselves on the back.

It was all business.

Every guy on that team knew they had four more wins to earn.

There’s just something about the way Mike Sullivan fits with this team.

During an exhilarating time, he kept his team focused on the real goal.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a coach in any sport that can read his team like Mike Sullivan.

It took guts to hand Matt Murray the net in the Conference Final after game three.

He pushed that button, when a lot of coaches wouldn’t have.

But I guess that’s what separates the good coaches from the great ones.

And Mike Sullivan is a great one.

The Penguins were left with one last hurdle to overcome.

One more series win and they were the first back to back champions since 1998.

The message was all the same, “Just Play”.

The Nashville Predators rode into their first Cup Final in franchise history on the shoulders of their goaltender.

A goaltender who had historically struggled against the defending champs.

Game one came, and Nashville came out flying.

Only minutes into the game, PK Subban put the Predators up by one.

But Mike Sullivan had other ideas.

He challenged the goal for offsides.

The referees deemed that the play was indeed offside, and waived off the goal.

The Penguins went on to score three consecutive goals.

Who knows how that game turns out if Sullivan doesn’t challenge that goal.

The Predators might not surrender those three goals.

They might even score a few more.

Fortunately, we’ll never know.

Despite being outshot 26 to 12, the Penguins won and took a 1-0 series lead.

Matt Murray was brilliant and stole the victory.

Game two was more of the same.

The Predators outplayed the Penguins, but Murray outplayed Rinne.

The Penguins took a 2-0 series lead.

It looked like a forgone conclusion that the Penguins were going to repeat.

Pekka Rinne couldn’t stop a beach ball.

Matt Murray was lights out.

And then the series shifted to Nashville.

A young hockey city hungry for its first Stanley Cup.

The atmosphere was out of this world.

The Predators rode their crowd’s momentum.

Pekka Rinne transformed back into the Conn Smythe favorite.

The Predators defended home turf and tied the series.

All of the momentum on their side.

All of the statistics said it was their Cup to lose now.

It was like we had seen this before or something.

The Capitals knew this script all too well.

With the odds against them in the most pivotal game of the series, the defending champions showed up once again.

The Penguins played their best game of the series in game five.

From the moment the puck dropped, Sidney Crosby took control.

Like a true leader, he put the team on his back.

He flew by the Predators on the first shift, and rang a shot off the post.

He didn’t quit on the play after that and drew a penalty only a minute into the game.

He then fed Justin Schultz on the powerplay, who started the onslaught.

It was all Penguins from there on out.

The best thing about winning Stanley Cups is the moments that come along the way.

Ron Hainsey, who had struggled all playoffs, played the game of his life.

The man who had gone 907 games without a playoff appearance made the most of his opportunity.

Hainsey put on an incredible move to send James Neal flying into Mike Fisher.

He motored down to the net, where Malkin would hit him for a tap-in goal.

It’s moments like this that make hockey so amazing.

I’m so damn happy for Ron Hainsey.

Out of left field, he plays the game of his life in game five, and tops it off with a beautiful goal.

Every player on this team had their own special contribution to this run.

That was Ron Hainsey’s.

They’d win the game 6-0 and head to Nashville with a chance to close the series.

Almost exactly a year after last season’s Cup victory, the Penguins could do it again.

The Penguins came out flying.

Pekka Rinne looked to be in typical Nashville form.

This one was going to be as close as it gets.

Early in the second period, Colton Sissons buried a Filip Forsberg rebound.

The Predators had struck first.

Unfortunately for them, the whistle had struck just a second earlier.

The referee blew the play dead on a premature whistle and negated the goal.

That was the break that the Penguins needed.

The referees would hand the Predators four powerplays.

The Penguins killed all four of them.

The game would head into the third period tied at zero.

Only 20 minutes separated the Penguins from repeating as champions.

The teams traded chances back in forth in an incredible display of talent.

With only a minute and change left on the clock, the Penguins had another one of those championship moments.

Former Predator, Patric Hornqvist put the Penguins ahead.

James Neal was a hell of a goal scorer.

But you can’t quantify some of the things Patric Hornqvist does.

A warrior who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Patric Hornqvist willed the puck into the net from an impossible angle.

Carl Hagelin would sink the empty net dagger soon after.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were going to win the Stanley Cup.

It almost didn’t seem real.

Even though it just happened last season, I couldn’t believe it.

I didn’t celebrate anything until that clock hit zero.

Through all of the adversity, they had done it again.

Without their most important player, they had done it again.

I’d dare to say this is one of the most resilient hockey teams of all-time.

The ups and downs were aplenty.

The ride was anything but smooth.

But just when you thought it was all coming to an end, they persevered.

Of the three Stanley Cups I’ve witnessed in my lifetime, this was by far the most rewarding one.

The two best players in the world looking to further their legacy.

The past and future of Penguins goaltending teaming up to get the job done.

A promising rookie setting historic scoring records.

Clutch role players like Bryan Rust, Patric Hornqvist, and Nick Bonino.

A makeshift defense taking on much bigger roles to hold it together.

Veterans like Matt Cullen riding the desperation of their last season.

A historic coach constantly scheming and strategizing to give his team every advantage.

We might not see a team put a run like this together again in our lifetimes.

Their bonds on and off the ice help make them so great.

Every guy wants to win for the guy next to him.

No one out there plays for himself.

It’s all for the team, all the time.

It’s hard to refer to this group simply as a team at this point.

They’re a family if I’ve ever seen one.

Cherish these moments, everything about them, because they’re not easy to come by.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are back to back Stanley Cup champions.

Oh, and they’re only getting better next season.

Who was the last team to three peat?

 

 

 

 

 

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