Penguins’ 13 Seasons of Playoff Memories: Stanley Cup Final

The Pittsburgh Penguins hold the longest active streak for consecutive playoff appearances in the NHL with 13 seasons under their belt. Though they failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in the 2019 Postseason – as did other favored teams like the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vegas Golden Knights – there have been plenty of other memorable Stanley Cup Final moments for the Penguins during their streak.

2008: Petr Sykora’s Triple-Overtime Prediction

The Stanley Cup Final was new territory for many of the players on the young Penguins squad in 2008, including captain Sidney Crosby. For right winger Petr Sykora, who won the Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000, the series against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings was a chance to show the new guys the ropes.

Not only was this the first Stanley Cup Final appearance for many of the Penguins’ players, but it was also only the third visit to the final round by the franchise as a whole. The last two, in 1991 and 1992, resulted in back-to-back Stanley Cup victories led by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.

Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins had not been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1992, when Mario Lemieux was captain of the team. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

The Red Wings, on the other hand, were playing in their 23rd Stanley Cup Final, and their first one since winning the Cup in 2002. It was clear which team and franchise had more experience playing in late May and early June when the Red Wings shut out the Penguins in the first two games of the series at Joe Louis Arena by the collective score of 7-0. The Penguins rebounded in Game 3 at Mellon Arena thanks to goals from Crosby and Adam Hall, but they couldn’t even the series heading back to the motor city, dropping Game 4 on home ice.

Facing elimination, the Penguins knew they had to step it up for Game 5. They were down 3-2 with 35 seconds left in the game when head coach Michel Therrien pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of extra attacker Max Talbot. The quick move paid off with Talbot scoring a tying goal to force overtime.

Peter Sykora signing with the Devils
Peter Sykora (front), pictured as a member of the New Jersey Devils, used his Stanley Cup Playoff experience to make a bold prediction in 2008. (Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE)

Two extra frames were not enough to settle the score and either force a Game 6 or crown the 2008 Stanley Cup champions. In the locker room between the second and third overtimes, Sykora told his teammates that he would score the game-winning goal. He then returned to the ice and relayed the same message to Versus announcer Pierre McGuire who was broadcasting from between the benches.

Skeptics didn’t believe that Sykora could follow up on his promise. He had just one goal in 12 games leading up to Game 5, and he hadn’t had a shot on goal all night. However, he did have a precedent for coming up big in overtime games. Sykora scored the game-winner for the Anaheim Ducks in the fifth overtime of a conference semifinal game in 2003.

At 109:57 of the game, Sykora buried the puck behind Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood to wrap up the match and keep the Penguins alive. The goal came on assists from Malkin and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who was playing his first shift in 50 minutes after being injured earlier in the night. Marc-Andre Fleury, too, deserved credit for the win. He stopped 55 shots, with 24 of those coming in the overtime periods.

Mobbed by media following his heroics, Sykora told the Canadian Press:

“I didn’t feel I was going to score but had to get [the team] a little looser out there and make a comment like that, give the guys a little laugh in the locker room, and I’m not complaining that it worked.”

At the time, this game was the fifth-longest Stanley Cup Final game in NHL history. In 2012, it ranked as the 28th-longest Stanley Cup Playoff game of all time.

Despite Sykora and company’s valiant efforts, the Penguins lost Game 6 at Mellon Arena, and the Red Wings locked up the 11th Stanley Cup in franchise history.

2009: Penguins Get the Last Laugh on Marian Hossa

The wound of losing the Stanley Cup to Detroit was still fresh for Penguins players and fans alike when free agency rolled around in July 2008. The Penguins hoped to keep their team relatively the same for the 2008-09 season to make another run for the Cup. This plan included re-signing star forward Marian Hossa to a five-year, roughly $50 million deal.

Hossa shocked the hockey world when he not only turned down the Penguins’ offer, but instead chose to sign with the Red Wings.

At the time, he told the Associated Press:

“When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit. I could get more money somewhere else, but I was looking for the best chance to win the Stanley Cup,”

(from ‘Hossa signs with Detroit in stunning move,’ Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – 7/2/08).

You can imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when the Red Wings met the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, making it the first time in 25 years that two teams played each other in consecutive finals.

Tyler Kennedy Pittsburgh Penguins Marian Hossa Detroit Red Wings
Marian Hossa chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings over the Pittsburgh Penguins to have a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup. (wstera/Flickr)

The ice was tilted in Detroit and Hossa’s favor in Games 1 and 2, just like the previous year. In 2009, however, the Penguins were able to win both Games 3 and 4 at Mellon Arena to take a tied series back to Joe Louis Arena. It looked as though the Penguins were falling apart after losing Game 5 in a 5-0 shutout, but they rebounded at home in Game 6 thanks to goals from Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy and were ready to head back to Detroit for Game 7.

Max Talbot Pittsburgh Penguins
Max Talbot became the hero of Game 7 for the Pittsburgh Penguins. (ArronVanLuven, Flickr)

Prior to the start of the series, Talbot told reporters he couldn’t wait to meet Hossa in the handshake line and tell him that he picked the wrong team. Pittsburgh’s “Superstar” wanted to make good on that promise and took matters into his own hands, scoring both Penguins goals in Game 7. As in Game 5 in 2008, Fleury also came up big making a last-second, diving save in the dying seconds of the third to stop the Red Wings from forcing overtime.

Hossa had to eat a slice of humble pie following the Penguins’ victory, adding their third Stanley Cup to the franchise repertoire and seeing former teammate Evgeni Malkin accept the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP.

But did Talbot get the chance to rub his victory in Hossa’s face? Following the game, Talbot told the Associated Press:

“I just told him ‘Good job.’ I think he knows he made the wrong choice. I don’t have to tell him.”

2016: Trevor Daley Lifts the Cup for his Mom

The 2016 Stanley Cup Final was going to be exciting no matter what the outcome. The Penguins – after making a coaching change, turning their season around, and relying heavily on rookie backup goalie Matt Murray in the playoffs – were back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in seven years and for the third time in eight years. The San Jose Sharks, on the other hand, were making their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in their 25th anniversary season.

The Penguins looked to be the favorites to win the series, especially after taking Games 1 and 2 at CONSOL Energy Center and Game 4 in San Jose at SAP Center. Game 5 in Pittsburgh marked the first chance the Penguins had to win a Stanley Cup on home ice, and the city was electrified. The game was sold out, and those who couldn’t make it inside packed the streets outside the arena to watch the game on the big screen and hopefully celebrate their hometown champs at the end of the night.

Penguins celebrate a goal. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While winning the Cup at home was not meant to be, the Penguins were able to lock down a victory in San Jose on June 12, 2016, winning the fourth franchise Stanley Cup exactly seven years to the day that they won the third. Though the victory was sweet, what happened following the Stanley Cup presentation was even better.

Trevor Daley had been having a rough time off the ice for many reasons. Not only did he have to sit out the entire Stanley Cup Final with a broken ankle, but he was also dealing with family issues. His 51-year-old mother, Trudy, was battling cancer and wasn’t doing well. One of her dreams was to see Trevor skate with the Stanley Cup. When he dressed and tried to get himself onto the ice for the team celebration he knew he would get to fulfill his mother’s dream, he just didn’t realize how soon that would come.

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After his last visit home, Daley told Crosby that his mother wasn’t well, and shared her wish of wanting to see him skate with the Cup. Crosby remembered this exchange as he skated over to collect the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP for himself, and the Stanley Cup for the entire team.

After an initial victory lap of the ice, Crosby passed the Cup to Daley. While it’s up to the discretion of the captain who receives the Cup second, passing it to the injured defenseman was a head-scratching choice to anyone unaware of the situation behind the scenes. Daley, though, was grateful and touched by Crosby’s decision.

He told reporters from Pittsburgh’s local news channel KDKA:

“It was pretty special. [Crosby’s] a great player, but he’s an even better person. There’s not much more you can say about that guy. He’s a special guy.”

Daley’s mother passed away on June 21, just over a week after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

2017: Back-to-Back Champions for the 2nd Time in Franchise History

Though many analysists and critics said that the Penguins, or any other team for that matter, wouldn’t be able to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in the new era of the NHL, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t feel the same way, and he made sure his team was aware of it on the first day of training camp in summer 2016.

Retelling his locker room pep talk to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sullivan said:

“Everybody’s telling us that we can’t do it. History’s telling us we can’t. All the experts are telling us we can’t. My challenge to them was. ‘Why not?’ We weren’t going to let anyone else write our story,”

(from ‘Penguins Repeat, Win Fifth Stanley Cup,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 6/12/17).

While the Penguins were looking for back-to-back victories, their opponents were just as hungry. The Nashville Predators were playing in their first Stanley Cup Final, after joining the NHL in 1997 and playing their first season in 1998-99.

Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In true repeat fashion, the Penguins stormed ahead to take Games 1 and 2 at PPG Paints Arena by the collective score of 9-4. The Predators proved that they wouldn’t back down when the series moved to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, winning Games 3 and 4 by a collective score of 9-2.

The Penguins felt they had something to prove upon returning home, and sent a decisive message in Game 5, with Murray earning a shutout on a 6-0 victory. Goals were scored by Malkin, Phil Kessel, Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and Ron Hainsey, who was playing in his very first postseason after 16 years and 907 games in the league.

The pattern continued as the series shifted back to Nashville for Game 6. Thanks to a quick whistle in the second period, which disallowed a goal by Filip Forsberg, Murray held the Predators scoreless for six consecutive periods, over 120 minutes. A crazy bounce allowed former Predator Patric Hornqvist to open the scoring late in the third period, and Carl Hagelin banked home an empty-net insurance goal to help the Penguins win the second of back-to-back Stanley Cups by the score of 2-0.

Carl Hagelin Penguins
Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh Penguins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The most touching and symbolic moment of the post-game celebration came at the hands of Fleury, who had shared the net with Murray most of the season and was benched in favor of Murray midway through the Eastern Conference Final. After receiving and skating with the Cup, Fleury passed it to Murray, and sort of symbolized the passing of the team to him as well. In the offseason, Fleury was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft after 12 seasons in Pittsburgh.

Of the gesture, Murray told Jason Mackey:

“The fact that he handed me the Cup there says a lot about who Flower is. That meant so much to me for him to do that. I don’t know what made him do that, but I’m very thankful for having him around, to call him a friend and a mentor. He’s a special human being,”

(from ‘Penguins Repeat, Win Fifth Stanley Cup,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 6/12/17).

While the Penguins are not in contention for the 2019 Stanley Cup, either the St. Louis Blues or the Boston Bruins will find ways to make history and write their names on the most famous trophy in sports. The Bruins have six championships in franchise history with the last coming in 2011. The Blues, in contrast, have never won a Stanley Cup, and have not reached the Final since 1970. Who will be next out of these two unexpected teams to “write their own story?”