Penguins’ Flashback: “The Save”

For a club whose history doesn’t go back nearly as far as that of the members of the Original Six, the Penguins certainly have contributed their share of memorable playoff moments.

Looking back only a few short years, Pens’ supporters are sure to have fond memories of Marc-Andre Fleury’s Cup clinching stop on Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom during the dying seconds of the ’09 Finals.  Or maybe they’ll recall Max Talbot’s momentum shifting fight against the Flyers’ Daniel Carcillo.

Perhaps fans that are a little bit older reminisce over the Pens’ epic comeback against the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the ’92 Finals.  Or maybe they tell stories of Mario Lemieux’s iconic tally against Minnesota, a marker that put an emphatic stamp on the Penguins’ first championship.

One of the most memorable tallies of Lemieux’s career, it actually may never have occurred if it weren’t for the heroics of backup goaltender, Frank Pietrangelo.

The Backdrop

When the Penguins acquired Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings late in the 1990-91 campaign, it provided the club with enough punch to capture its first-ever Patrick Division title.  Despite the fact they joined a core that included Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Paul Coffey and Mark Recchi, though, the club still wasn’t considered a heavy favorite once the playoffs began:

“They’re all very special, but that one there, if you had a wager on that in Vegas, you would have been a billionaire. Nobody suspected the Penguins to win.” – Paul Coffey, on the Pens’ first Stanley Cup

It certainly didn’t come easily.  Facing New Jersey in the first round, Pittsburgh found itself in a 3-2 series hole.  To make matters worse, the Penguins headed to East Rutherford for Game 6 without starting goaltender, Tom Barrasso, who had sustained a shoulder injury.  Consequently, Pietrangelo was thrown into the spotlight and charged with backstopping the Pens past the Devils.

The Save

Clinging to a 2-1 lead on the strength of a pair of Kevin Stevens’ markers, the Penguins found themselves under siege thanks to a New Jersey power play.  Pietrangelo managed to stop a bouncing floater that was flung in from the point but the rebound eventually squirted out into the slot, right on the tape of Peter Stastny.  No stranger to finding the back of the net, the Devils’ star corralled the gift-wrapped puck as he stared into the gaping cage.  As he prepared to knot the score, Pietrangelo’s glove came out of nowhere to swallow up Stastny’s attempt and maintain the Penguins’ lead.

At the time, it was simply a great save in a contest that the Penguins used to stave off elimination, as they eventually held on to win Game 6, 4-3.

“It was kind of a spectacular moment, I guess. It was something that you don’t realize what the impact of that was going to be until, obviously, later down the road, right. But I guess it was just something meant to be.  But, you know, it’s just one of those things, bang bang, hockey’s a fast game, as we all know. The puck bounced out and there it was, and obviously my job is to make the save, but I guess it did turn out to be such a big turning point in the series because it gave us some belief, I guess, moving forward.” – Frank Pietrangelo, on “The Save”

The Penguins harnessed that belief and, with another strong effort from their backup goaltender, posted a 4-0 dismantling of the Devils in Game 7 of the dramatic first round matchup.  With the comeback complete, Pittsburgh moved on to face the Capitals in the next round and Pietrangelo, for his part, would soon return to the bench in favor of a healthy Barrasso as the Penguins continued their march toward the club’s first Stanley Cup championship.

With his time in the Pittsburgh limelight behind him, Pietrangelo was shipped off to Hartford late in the 1991-’92 season.  Gone but not forgotten, he will always be remembered in Penguins’ lore for “The Save” and the role he played in catapulting the Pens to their first Stanley Cup.