Nashville started the third period of Game 6 like it was their last. Thanks to two late goals for Pittsburgh, it was.
Pittsburgh has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, the first team to pull that off in nearly two decades. Sidney Crosby was named playoff MVP, earning his second-straight Conn Smythe trophy.
Matt Murray and the Penguins’ defense stood strong all game. The Preds registered just two official shots in the third period’s first seven minutes, but they had many more scoring opportunities. The Penguins had their chances too early in the third, but the ice surely felt tilted, as if the power of the Nashville crowd empowered the team in yellow more than they had in any of the previous 10 home playoff games.
An Olli Maatta trip gave the Preds a power play, then on the kill Trevor Daley punched Ryan Ellis in the face, giving Nashville a 5-on-3. Pittsburgh (read: Murray) were able to kill off the 30-plus seconds of a two-man disadvantage.
Then they killed the rest.
A few minutes later, Patric Hornqvist killed the crowd.
Pekka Rinne was nearly perfect in Game 6, but a shot off his back ended the season. With 13.6 seconds left, Carl Hagelin buried an empty-netter for the 2-0 win and the second Stanley Cup in as many years. Murray finished with 27 saves on as many shots, another shutout in the biggest game of the season.
Game 6 was electric from start to finish. The Penguins outshot the Preds 9-8 in the first period, while the Pens had five blocks to just two for Nashville. There were a combined 25 hits in the first, but 17 came from the Predators, who clearly came out with the mindset that beating up the Penguins from the outset was the key to victory.
The Predators really did do just about everything right in the first period. They didn’t commit a penalty — the Penguins had just one — and despite a lackluster power play, they still peppered Murray and the Pens’ defense throughout the first 20 minutes.
Rinne was as lucky as he was good in the first period, making the key stops early he wasn’t able to make in three games in Pittsburgh.
As nuts as the first period was, the second period started even crazier. Murray let a puck trickle through his pads 1:07 into the second, but the referee was screened, so he blew the whistle despite the puck spinning in the goalmouth. The Predators’ Colton Sissons buried the puck, but the referee had already blown his whistle, stopping play. It was a terrible call that benefited the Penguins, but a terrible call nonetheless.
The refs proceeded to try and correct the mistake by making several others. The Preds had a 2-on-1 develop minutes later that was at least two feet offsides. Then Nashville got the second power play of the game on a bit of a ticky-tack call on Conor Sheary, despite a pretty clear interference on the other end not getting called just before play switched ends. And still, the Pens kept the Preds off the scoreboard, killing off another penalty.
Murray stood on his head in the second, stopping a breakaway by Sissons just past the halfway point of the period that could have blown the roof off the building in Nashville. Alas, with Murray strong in net, the game remained scoreless.
The Predators were on the front foot, er, skate for most of the second period, and they deserved a lead heading into the third. The Penguins again outshot the Preds in the second, 12 to 11 and the hits evened out as well, as the Predators had just 20 after two, to 17 for Pittsburgh. Still, the score remained tied.
Lots of shots, lots of hits, lots of blocks, LOTS of controversy, but no goals through 40 minutes.
Pittsburgh becomes the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Detroit Red Wings of the late 1990s. The last team with a chance to win back-to-back was Detroit again, but the Penguins ended that run in 2009. Now, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have three titles to share.
Crosby posed with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the game, then did his customary lap with the Stanley Cup, kissing the trophy before handing it to Ron Hainsey, who had never even played in the playoffs until this year. Hainsey then gave the Cup to Matt Cullen, then Chris Kunitz. Maybe it was age order.
Malkin got the trophy next. Despite not winning the Conn Smythe, Malkin had the most points of any player in the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury got to house the Cup after Mark Streit, then handing the trophy to Murray, who was phenomenal in the clincher.
Murray has two Stanley Cup wins as starting goalie. He’s 23 years old.
After each of the players had their turn with the Cup, head coach Mike Sullivan hoisted it over his head, yelling, “Thank you boys. You’re the best.”
Again, this year, they were.