SAN JOSE – The city of Pittsburgh will hold a Stanley Cup parade later this week at its State Point Park and when it does, the good people of that city will have a chance to celebrate a franchise that has set a gold standard over the past quarter of a century.
The Penguins won the Cup Sunday night with a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final and it was impossible to make the argument that the better team did not win this series. The Penguins, under new coach Mike Sullivan and a rebuilt roster, were so dominant in the Stanley Cup final that only Sharks goalie Martin Jones prevented it from being a laugher.
This was the Penguins fourth Cup in the past 25 years, matching the Detroit Red Wings for the most Cups in the past quarter century. They also won their second of the NHL’s salary cap era, an achievement exceeded only by the Chicago Blackhawks. To put things into perspective, the New York Rangers have won four Stanley Cups since they came into the league in 1926. The Penguins matched the Rangers, despite entering the league 40 years later.
And in winning the Cup, the Penguins have also entered the conversation of which team is the best post-expansion team ever. Until now, that distinction had been shared by the New York Islanders, who entered the league five years after the Penguins and won all four of their Cups consecutively between 1980 and 1983, and the Edmonton Oilers, who entered the league in 1979 and won five Cups in seven years.
But here’s where the Penguins differ from the other two teams. The Islanders and Oilers won their Cups with a dynastic core that did not change, with the exception of Wayne Gretzky getting traded prior to the Oilers last Cup in 1990. The Penguins, on the other hand, won four Cups with three different GMs, four different coaches and three different rosters.
This one, though, is probably the most unlikely of the bunch. The Penguins were not expected to do much this season and until they fired coach Mike Johnston, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. But GM Jim Rutherford, who became just the second GM in NHL history to manage two different organizations to Stanley Cups – Hall of Famer Tommy Gorman was the first – made the bold change to Sullivan, then kept acquiring players that changed the complexion of the team and made them almost impossible to keep up in terms of speed.
And in the end, that was the deciding factor. The Penguins were just too fast for the Sharks, and the three teams they dispatched before them. It will be interesting to see the legacy this team leaves in terms of how future rosters are built, given that the NHL is such a copycat league.
The Sharks, on the other hand, were able to cast aside their playoff demons en route to the Stanley Cup final. Seen as chronic underachievers in the playoffs, the Sharks dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, then put aside the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. But they simply ran out of gas against the Penguins, who became the first Eastern Conference team to win the Stanley Cup since the Boston Bruins did it in 2011.
Sidney Crosby, with six goals and 19 points in the post-season, was named Conn Smythe Trophy winner for the first time in his career as the MVP of the playoffs. Even though he failed to score a goal and had just three assists in the final, Crosby was a force at both ends of the ice.