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The Penguins are heading back to Pittsburgh. And they're bringing the Stanley Cup with them.
The Pens capped off a memorable season with a 3-1 Game 6 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday, clinching the fourth title in franchise history.
Kris Letang broke a 1-1 tie at 7:46 of the second period, giving Pittsburgh a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Letang took a pass from captain Sidney Crosby at the side of the Sharks net and rifled a shot between goalie Martin Jones and the post for the Cup-clinching goal.
Letang had assisted on Pittsburgh's three previous game-winning markers in the Final.
The goal capped off an epic shift by the Crosby line in response to Logan Couture's game-tying tally just 1:19 earlier. Brent Burns made an athletic keep at the blueline and fed the puck to Couture, who used Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz as a screen before beating Matt Murray through the five-hole.
Brian Dumoulin broke the ice for the Penguins at 7:50 of the first period. The defender drew the penalty that put Pittsburgh on the power play, then beat Jones with a slapper from the point just 26 seconds into the man advantage to make it 1-0 Penguins.
Dumoulin's goal marked the fifth time in six games that the Penguins had opened the scoring.
Patric Hornqvist iced the win with an empty netter at the 18:58 mark of the third. Crosby made the play happen by blocking a shot off the stick of series nemesis Marc-Edouard Vlasic, the perfect metaphor for the total team commitment by the Penguins.
Murray rebounded from a shaky Game 5 performance by stopping 18 of 19 shots he faced in the Penguins net. He made several big saves on the night, setting the tone with an early stop on a Matt Nieto two-on-one opportunity. With the win the rookie finished the playoffs a perfect 6-0 in games following a loss.
Jones was again magnificent for the Sharks, but couldn't steal another win like he did in Game 5. He finished the night with 24 saves, at least six of which would rank among the best in the entire playoffs. This one on Phil Kessel was as good as it gets:
"What do you say about him?" Sharks coach Peter DeBoer wondered aloud. "One of the all-time best goaltending performances in a Final probably ever, or right up there anyway. I thought he was sensational every game we played."
Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, completing the grand slam of individual honors. He'd previously won the the Hart Trophy as regular-season MVP (2007 and 2014), the Art Ross trophy as the NHL's regular-season scoring champion (2007 and 2014) and the Ted Lindsay Award as the players MVP (2007, 2013 and 2014).
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After accepting that award, Crosby was first in line to receive the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He made a solid choice with his first hand-off, turning the Cup over to Trevor Daley. The defenseman broke his ankle during the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay and was unable to play in the Final. He then handed it to Pascal Dupuis, who was forced to retire earlier this season because of recurring blood clots.
"Daley had played for such a long time, but never really even had a chance [at a Cup]," Crosby said. " He told me that he went and saw his mom in between series. She wasn't doing well [health-wise] and she wanted to see him with the Cup. That was important to her. I think that kind of stuck with me after he told me that. We were motivated to get it for him, even though he had to watch.
"Duper, what he's been through the last couple years, the type of teammate he's been, just the way he's approached everything ... he would have loved to have been playing. This is as good as we could have done without him playing. That was special."
Pittsburgh's penalty kill was superb throughout the series, silencing a power play that mowed down the Kings, Predators and Blues. It was perfect again in Game 6, highlighted by a critical stop early in the third period while protecting a slim 2-1 lead.
The Pens didn't simply prevent the Sharks from landing a shot on net during Conor Sheary's two minutes in the box. They sucked the life out of them with a series of entry denials and quick clears. There were still better than 12 minutes on the clock when he got free, but the Sharks were physically and spiritually out of gas after that chance went by the board.
Gif of the Night, Part I
For the second game in a row, Jones sent Nick Bonino to bed without any supper. This is ridiculous.
Gif of the Night, Part II
This play pretty much summed up the futility of the Sharks: While they were playing at 60 MPH, the Penguins were blowing past them at 80. That extra step made the difference on this amazing backcheck by Chris Kunitz on a Joel Ward breakaway attempt, and it was the margin of victory in the series as a whole.
Tweet of the Night
Some pitchers have rubber arms. Melker Karlsson has a rubber groin. I hope.
Notable Number: 2
For all the offensive fireworks they can muster, these Penguins will forever be remembered for their relentless defense.
Carrying a 2-1 lead into the third period, and with a chance to claim the Cup on the line, the Pens smothered the Sharks in the neutral zone, eliminating any possible threat before it got near their blue line. The result: they held a team playing desperate hockey to two measly shots on net in the final frame.
That result is a testament to how this team was built, particularly on the back end, and how those players were deployed by Sullivan.
These Pens epitomize the new NHL. There's not a classic shut-down bruiser among them. Instead, they employed smooth skating playmakers who quickly and efficiently got the puck out of their zone and into transition. It's an approach that keeps the biscuit on their sticks and away from the opposition. Pittsburgh limited the Sharks to just 23 shots per game, on average, through this series. But Game 6 was their masterpiece. San Jose generated just 19 shots total. They never had a chance.
What It Means
The Penguins waited seven years between titles. The next one might not be so far off. Or the one after that.
It might have taken them six games to finish off the Sharks, but the duration won't fool anyone who watched. This was perhaps the most lopsided series in 20 years, dominated by a defensive powerhouse that overwhelmed its opponent with its speed, puck pursuit and transition game.
It's a style that's demanding, but not exhausting, because it was tailored to their strengths. And it's one that should continue to pay dividends over the next few seasons, given their youth, their depth and stability of their lineup (only three players, Matt Cullen, Ben Lovejoy and Justin Schultz, need new deals).
If they can stay healthy, the Pens are well situated to repeat next season ... and beyond.