By Scott Taylor
Pens Win Cup
The Nashville Predators did not score a goal in the final 123 minutes and 23 seconds of the Stanley Cup final.
And that’s why the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2017 Stanley Cup champions.
Thanks to two late goals – a bit of a fluke by Patric Hornqvist and an empty netter by the speedy Carl Hagelin – the Penguins won their second straight Cup with a 2-0 win over the Predators in Game 6 of the Championship Final.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also won his second straight individual award – the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the playoff MVP.
It was the first time since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings that any team had won two straight Stanley Cups.
“This was our goal at the start of the year, we knew it hadn’t been done in a long time,” Crosby told NBC Sports. “To be able to accomplish it is a great feeling.
“We knew it was going to be tough all year. We just tried to keep with it. We had a lot of injuries and things like that, so we just kept finding ways. That’s really what we did all season, all playoffs, and it’s great to be able to do it.”
On Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Smashville, the high-spirited, and yes, magnificent, home crowd couldn’t coax their heroes into a goal. The Predators did not score a goal since Filip Forsberg scored his only goal of the final at the 16:37 mark of the third period of Game 4.
In Game 5, Matt Murray made 24 saves to get the 6-0 shutout in Pittsburgh and then, in Game 6 on Sunday, made 27 saves to get the 2-0 shutout in Nashville. In a series in which every expert claimed that the only way Nashville could win was if their netminder, Pekka Rinne, was significantly better than Murray, the Pittsburgh puck-stopper was clearly the best.
The goals on Sunday weren’t pretty. Of course, they didn’t have to be. The winner was a shot from behind the Nashville net, off Rinne’s back and up into the twine with 1:35 left in regulation time. The winner was a result of Hagelin’s under-rated speed as he won a race to a loose puck and almost skated that puck right through the net.
“It’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said during a postgame interview on CBC-TV. “I just got lucky to score the first goal.”
“This was a team effort from the first shift to the last shift. This was a battle through the whole series. They played really well Nashville, but we came up big when we needed it.”
It was an amazing scene in Nashville after Hornqvist scored the winner. After all, it was the Predators who made Hornqvist the very last pick, No. 230, in the 2005 NHL Draft. For those who might have forgotten, Crosby was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.
Hornqvist scored 106 goals in 363 games for the Predators before he was traded to the Penguins, along with forward Nick Spaling, for forward James Neal on June 27, 2014. The trade was the very first one made by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. It’s a crazy world.
Of course, this was a huge series for the three most important players, Murray, Hornqvist and Crosby, but it was also deeply important and even heart-warming for three American players: Virginia, Minnesota’s Matt Cullen is expected to retire today. He won the Cup at age 40. Woodbury, Minnesota’s Jake Guentzel tied a rookie playoff scoring record with 13 goals and 21 points. And Bolton, Connecticut’s Ron Hainsey, in his first NHL playoff at age 36, was the man Crosby handed the Cup to after the captain took the first skate.
One of the great things about hockey, what makes it more, well, player-friendly, than other major professional sport is that this is the only one in which the commissioner hands the trophy to the team captain, not the team owner. When Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby for the second straight year, it pretty much solidified Crosby’s place among the greatest players in the game’s history.
The fans in Nashville didn’t like him and there are a lot of hockey fans all over who don’t care for Crosby’s form of passion. However, if you’re going to build a franchise around one player, it would be Sid the Kid. And he proved it again with a second straight Stanley Cup and a second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy.