Pittsburgh Penguins claim fourth Stanley Cup, Crosby wins Conn Smythe

The Pittsburgh Penguins are your 2016 Stanley Cup champions. It’s up to history to determine whether the Pens will be relegated to an afterthought‘s status, or as much of an afterthought as a champ can be, but this team absolutely earned the Stanley Cup title. After weathering a regular season that saw the squad outlast many swings of fortune (remember, they were out of the playoff picture as late as February), the team circled the wagons and gained 104 points as they rounded into contender form.The NHL playoffs are woolly and can be downright wild in certain seasons, yet this postseason saw, particularly in the East, the best continually come out of each round. Quibble if you will about Pittsburgh and Washington meeting in the second round versus meeting in the conference finals, but Pittsburgh took down all comers, regardless of when they were faced.

They dismantled the New York Rangers in clinical fashion during the opening round. Then, against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Caps, the team outlasted, outworked and eventually outclassed the star-crossed Capitals before taking the best from the defending Eastern Conference champion, Tampa Bay Lightning, in seven games. Upon reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, the Penguins answered every question. Staking a two-game advantage to open the series, Pittsburgh, even when they dropped a couple of games, continually appeared to be the team in control and the team that had this Cup in hand. Their offense was led not by one or two superstars, but by a legion, a committee of doom that made every line on the opposition work. Crosby, Malkin, and a rejuvenated Kessel spread across three lines was simply too much for the San Jose Sharks (or the Rangers, or Caps, or Bolts) to endure. Routinely any given opponent would slow one of Pittsburgh’s lines, only to see their defense spring a leak against a different line. Such is life when you face a fire-breathing Hydra-esque offense over the course of a seven-game series. This offense had the appearance of playing with house money throughout and they may not have been wrong to have the knowing air about them. Two or three goals feels like infinity when you have this version of Matt Murray as your stopper.

Ahh, Matt Murray. Anchoring the entire team with his electric work as net minder. Murray’s play made the exceptional seem routine, delivering save after save with the rote readiness of an actor rehearsing his lines for the 100th time. Murray, and not Sidney Crosby, silently led this team to the promised land. Crosby, the most recognized (and talented) player in franchise history this side of anyone named “Lemieux” provided the steady leadership and veteran know-how for the Penguins when they needed it most and for that he won the Conn Smythe, but make no mistake: Matt Murray was this team’s savior and most valuable player throughout the playoffs. Still, “I come to praise the Penguins, not bury the PHWA,” and all that rot.

Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their many, many Yinzer fans. It’s been seven years since last the Steel City sipped from Lord Stanley’s chalice and the wait surely seemed like seventy years with the fear of Crosby and Malkin’s best years going to pasture without another title. But here it is, that elusive second Cup for Sid the Kid and the rest of the gang. Embrace these moments, Pittsburgh, you never know when the good ol’ days are gonna end and become more “old” than “good.”

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