Although the Pittsburgh Penguins season has come to an end, losing to the Washington Capitals in six games, it’s time to look back on the key players who played huge parts in their successful, back-to-back Stanley Cup Playoff runs.
From H.B.K to Sid and the Kids, both years have had their players who shone the brightest. It’s time to give them the credit they deserve.
Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel were all anyone could talk about during the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Combining for 56 of the Penguins 201 points (a third of the team’s points), the H.B.K line tore up the playoffs without hesitation.
Special teams are where this line individually excelled. Hagelin and Bonino became almost supernatural as part of the Penguins successful penalty kill. Bonino was relied upon to win important face-offs and Hagelin’s speed didn’t allow the opposition to keep control of the puck for long.
Where Hagelin and Bonino were committed to making the Penguins penalty kill better, Kessel was a force to be reckoned with apart of the team’s dangerous power play. Along with other stars on the Pittsburgh roster, the Penguins had one of the most sustainable power plays that season and it had to do with Kessel’s production.
Kessel could have arguably won the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP in 2015-16, finishing the playoffs with 22 points. Hagelin and Bonino would finish with career highs in playoff points with 16 points and 18 points.
The Penguins have also played 307 games (regular season and playoffs) since the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Despite injuries bothering him this year, Kessel has played in every single one of those games. This extended break is a must in order for Kessel to return 100% healthy for the start of next season.
Sid and the Kids
Sidney Crosby and the kids (Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary and the addition of Bryan Rust on occasion) were dominating in orchestrating the Penguins 2016-17 Stanley Cup victory. Crosby and Guentzel were especially dangerous, finishing their season with 27 points and 21 points. Crosby was the hands down option to win his second Conn Smythe trophy whereas Guentzel tied the rookie record for points.
Sheary and Rust took minor roles yet still managed to end the playoff year with 7 points and 9 points respectively. Rust has become known as the go-to player in elimination situations. Most notably, he scored two goals in the Penguins Game 7 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015-16.
Crosby and Guentzel were again leading their team this year before they were eliminated by the Capitals, both ending their playoff season with 21 points.
With all the young players that Pittsburgh has grown to rely on during the last few years, it’s only fair that the veterans who were integral pieces also be mentioned. Matt Cullen (40 years old), Marc-Andre Fleury (32 years old) and Chris Kunitz (37 years old) each executed their roles with the team to perfection.
Cullen was brought in to add more depth to the bottom two lines and be a key player on the Penguins penalty kill. He also was a huge part in bringing up the team’s face-off percentage. He would finish his run with the Penguins with 15 playoff points.
There is no one more deserving of praise than Fleury. Despite having to take a back seat in 2015-16, he kept his head held high and offered helpful advice to the rookie goaltender, Matt Murray. He had one of his best playoff series against the Washington Capitals and lifted the Penguins past them to reach the Eastern Conference Final for the second year in a row.
Kunitz has been part of the Penguins since their 2009 Stanley Cup win. He has always been a reliable player to get things done and has only gotten better each year. During the Penguins 2016-17, he began to kill penalties, something he had never done before. Pittsburgh ended that playoff year with one of the best penalty-killing units in the league. Kunitz would end the run with an impressive total of 24 points.
Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury
The goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were the backbone of the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. Without the composure of Murray and the experience Fleury brought, there’s no way this team could have repeated.
Although neither goalie started the first or second game of the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs due to injury, Matt Murray made his debut in Game 3 against the New York Rangers. Right away, Murray garnered praise. At that moment, it was known Fleury’s future with the Penguins would be slim. Despite only playing two games due to Matt getting hot, Fleury provided a mentor for the young goaltender.
Flower might not have gotten the opportunity to play, but the class and knowledge that he offered Murray was just one example of how great of a teammate he is.
Regardless of the numerous trade rumours swirling throughout the 2016-17 season, Fleury remained on the Penguins to start the playoffs after Murray went down in warmups with an injury. He was one of the sole reasons that Pittsburgh was able to get past the Capitals in the second round. Fleury played the Penguins first 15 games of 2016-17 before Murray stepped back in.
Murray has since established himself as the Penguins number one goaltender. In just those two successful seasons he’s won two Stanley Cups and has a playoff GAA of 1.89 and a .930 save percentage.
Certain players are highlighted in this article, but it’s important to recognize it takes a team effort to win a Stanley Cup. No one line or one player was single-handily the reason for the success. Each player had their own individual roles on and off the ice that they executed to perfection, together. For this reason, the Penguins were back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions.