The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions again, beating a team in six games again, with Sidney Crosby winning the Conn Smythe Trophy when someone else on his team was more deserving again. As far as titles go, this one was about as easy to predict as any of them.
You’d have to have been the dumbest idiot alive to have not seen this coming.
OK, so maybe I didn’t see this coming.
At least, I saw it coming before the season and then, perhaps, lost sight of this once or twice during the season and playoffs.
Maybe three times.
LOOK FINE I’M SORRY ALL RIGHT BUT I SWEAR I SAID PENGUINS IN 7 BEFORE THE FINAL!
Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it’s time to eat some crow and look back on every time the Penguins were counted out on their way to becoming the NHL’s first back-to-back champions since 1997 and 1998.
April 5: Kris Letang will undergo surgery on his neck and will miss the remainder of the season.
Instant reaction: The Penguins are screwed. So screwed. (This wasn’t even really an instant reaction. It’s pretty much exactly what we said in early March, after Letang had been out just two weeks and about a month before they announced the surgery.)
If they draw the Blue Jackets in round one, they’ll be fine there. But against the Capitals? Come on. As if a defense led by Brian Dumoulin is getting past the Caps and winning 16 games.
Overall result: A defense led by Brian Dumoulin got past the Caps and won 16 games.
It’s honestly still hard to explain how this happened, because I have so many memories of Olli Maatta making major mistake after major mistake, but a Justin Schultz power-play goal here and some nice work by Ian Cole there and even Ron Hainsey tapping in a goal for fun over here, and the Penguins went 16-9 without Letang. Scholars will attempt to explain that for decades.
April 12: Matt Murray suffers an injury before Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Instant reaction: The Penguins are screwed. Maybe not in this round, but if the Penguins have to ride Marc-Andre Fleury into round two against the Capitals, just give up now. No Letang and no Murray against the Capitals, who added Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline? Good luck, Penguins. You’re doomed.
Overall result: Fleury outplayed the defending Vezina Trophy winner one round after outplaying the likely Vezina Trophy winner this year. Fans have completely forgotten about the existence of Murray and are praying at Fleury shrines throughout Pittsburgh.
May 2: Sidney Crosby gets a concussion after a horrific stick to the face from Washington’s Matt Niskanen.
Instant reaction: The Penguins are screwed. OK, so no Murray, Letang or Crosby, and you still think this team is beating the Capitals? Or anyone else? Get lost, man. You’re out of your mind. It’s time to start thinking about the summer and how the Penguins will go about free agency and shedding Fleury’s contract via trade or buyout.
Overall result: Yeah, the Capitals are cursed and can’t beat the Penguins. That’s official now. But not only did Crosby return after missing only one game, the Penguins won that game without Crosby. The Capitals were basically playing against Malkin, Kessel and a good AHL team and still couldn’t win.
May 10: The Capitals have won two straight and have Game 7 in their building.
Instant reaction: OK, in my defense, I said the Penguins would probably lose, not definitely lose. I wasn’t betting on it or anything. But Fleury was faltering, the Capitals were playing loose, and it seemed like this would be the year the Capitals got over the hump.
Overall result: Yeah, yeah. The Capitals are the Picasso of choke artists. Lesson learned.
May 30: Pittsburgh police charge the catfish tosser with three crimes, including “possession of an instrument of a crime.”
Instant reaction: Trumped-up charges for tossing a fish on the ice is just bad karma. The Penguins are doomed.
Overall result: Turns out, having Pekka Rinne allow soft goal after soft goal mattered more than the catfish guy.
June 7: ‘Who’s to blame if the Pens lose the Cup to Nashville?’
Instant reaction: We didn’t say the Penguins would lose the Stanley Cup to the Predators, but after being outplayed in the first four games, and getting blown out in the two in Nashville, we made a list of who might be to blame if they did lose.
Overall result: We said it wouldn’t be Crosby!
June 11: Colton Sissons scores the first goal of Game 6, only to have it disallowed because a referee blew the most premature whistle in hockey history.
Instant reaction: In classic NHL officiating fashion, the Preds will be awarded a bunch of power plays they otherwise wouldn’t get, thus leading to a bunch of goals off makeup calls that will turn the series for Nashville.
Overall results: Oh right, the Preds’ power play is dreadful and relies on long-distance one-timers from defensemen. So really, the makeup calls were just two-minute windows where the Preds had no hope of scoring, thus delaying the inevitable Penguins’ championship celebration.