No. 1 – June 12, 2009 – Pittsburgh 2, Detroit 1
The layers ofnarrative that went into the first Stanley Cup of the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin era elevate Game 7 of the 2009 final above all others in franchise history.
It was a rematch of the 2008 final, won by the Red Wings in six games. The Penguins had a core of budding stars and popular role players determined not to miss out on a second chance, and they had been joined by a few key veterans, including Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz – but not Marian Hossa, who had shockingly defected to Detroit the summer before.
The morning of Game 7, Pens co-owner Mario Lemieux sent his players a text: “Play without fear and you will be successful. See you at center ice.”
Lemieux led Pittsburgh to the Cup in 1991 and ’92 as part of a veteran club. The 2008-09 team skewed much younger with Crosby, the 21-year-old captain, as its heart. Crosby, however, spent all but one shift of the third period of Game 7 watching from the visitors’ bench at Joe Louis Arena after his knee got crunched against the boards by Johan Franzen.
Max Talbot, already a fan-favorite role player, scored twice in the second period to elevate his franchise legacy to Cup hero. Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson cut it to 2-1 with 6:07 left and teammate Niklas Kronwall hit the crossbar with 2:14 left.
With a handful of seconds remaining, Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal lost a faceoff in the defensive end and the play quickly shifted to the opposite side of the Penguins’ zone. Fleury desperately lunged post-to-post to stop a shot by Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left. The Cup, and history, was clinched.
No. 2 – May 25, 1991 – Pittsburgh 8, Minnesota 0
The Penguins hammered the North Stars in Game 6 of the final for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Lemieux led way with four-point effort.
No. 3 – May 3, 2009 – Washington 4, Pittsburgh 3
It was all-out one-upmanship between superstar archrivals Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, as they traded hat tricks in a Capitals win.
GREATEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE OF ALL-TIME
Dec. 31, 1988 – Pittsburgh 8, New Jersey 6
The funny thing about Lemieux’s performance is that the significance of it wasn’t immediately recognized.
His five-goal, eight-point output was noteworthy, of course, but it didn’t sink in until afterward that Lemieux had scored each of his goals in a different hockey situation, making it the top individual game in franchise history. Lemieux scored at even strength, on the power play, shorthanded, on a penalty shot and into an empty net in a wild win over the Devils at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena. No NHL player before or since has scored five goals five ways.