They weren’t unanimously picked to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this season, nor were they heavily favored to win it, yet the Pittsburgh Penguins did just that. Pittsburgh clinched their first Stanley Cup since 2009 with a 3-1 series-clinching victory in Game 6 over the San Jose Sharks.
Maybe there was a collective sigh of relief from the organization who, like many, may have expected many more Stanley Cup ceremonies in the 7-year period between their last win in 2009 and now.
“It’s so hard to win it year after year,” said Mario Lemieux, who won back-to-back titles for Pittsburgh. “For them to be able to come through this year and win their second Cup is big. Hopefully there’s a few more for them.”
“I was just thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, just trying to enjoy every second of it,” Penguins’ Sidney Crosby said. “It’s not easy to get here. Having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit. You don’t think you do at the time, but it’s not easy to get to this point.”
“In the playoffs, suddenly we thought we could beat any team,” Evgeni Malkin said. “We tried to play the same game we played in 2009.”
The Penguins didn’t always have the “championship” look this season, especially under head coach Mike Johnston. But in December things took a major turn when coach Mike Sullivan took over and the team took on a whole new personality.
Crosby took the changes as an opportunity to really step up, in a much bigger way and display even more leadership.
“I think his leadership, for me, especially when we called a lot of young guys up,” said assistant coach Rick Tocchet. “I think he really took that to heart. He really wanted to lead these guys. He had them over to the house for dinner.
“Any time it got a little hairy in games, he was talking to them. I guess the cherry on top, he was incredible tonight. He was such an animal on the ice. I think that was the cherry for him, the process that he went through this year. I’m really proud of the way he played today, he wanted it tonight.”
It hasn’t been easy for Crosby, or the Pens, to get back to the promised land after 2009. Injuries, concussions, shake-ups and changes altered their course, making their journey to the Stanley Cup that much more clouded.
“Yeah, when you have so much turnover the last couple of years like we had, it’s not easy just to throw a bunch of guys together and develop that chemistry, that trust,” Crosby said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. But you look at the group and how many new players [we] brought in, it’s pretty special what we were able to do.”
But just as the team and organization evolved, so did Crosby’s game, which he brought to the next level.
“Early in his career, he went out and got points and did everything, but that didn’t make him satisfied,” Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz said. “He had to go out and lead through example, and became a better player. Offense, defense, he goes out with nine seconds left, takes a faceoff for our team. He’s the all-encompassing guy, one of the greatest players to ever play the game because of how he can adapt to the game and how hard he works at everything.”
Crosby’s resume just took another step up now with two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, two scoring titles and two Hart Trophies. The Hall of Fame is no longer a debate, but a foregone conclusion.
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