The Stanley Cup final: Ten takeaways on Pens' win - The Buffalo News
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The Stanley Cup final: Ten takeaways on Pens' win

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ten takeaways from the Stanley Cup final, where the atmosphere in Music City was all the rage but a back-to-back title for the Pittsburgh Penguins was what ultimately pushed the series deep into the history books.

1. Incredible 12 months for Sidney Crosby: Just think about what the Pittsburgh captain has done in a year's time: two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe tropies for playoff MVP, a World Cup title and even his second Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the NHL this year with 44 goals.

"What Sid has been able to accomplish in his career to this point would put him in the company of the all-time greats," said coach Mike Sullivan. "He's arguably the best player of his generation, and he's a guy that just knows how to win."

Crosby joins Bernie Parent (1974-75) and owner Mario Lemieux (1991-92) as the only players to win back-to-back Smythes.

"We knew it was going to be difficult," Crosby said. "But I think that's probably where the most joy comes out of, is just knowing how difficult it is now to go back-to-back and knowing that we overcame all those things. It's a pretty special group."

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2. Passing the Cup and the torch: The most emotional moment of the Penguins' Cup parade around the ice was when veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who almost certainly has closed his Pittsburgh career, held up the trophy and then gave it to successor Matt Murray.

"Fleury is probably the best team player in all of sports,” said Pens GM Jim Rutherford. "He carried us at different times of the season, carried us through two rounds of the playoffs, turned it over to Murray. I talked at the start of the season about keeping two goalies and these guys did exactly what I hoped they’d do.”

Fluery is expected to be either selected by Vegas in the expansion draft as part of some pre-arranged deal or perhaps straight-up traded to a team looking for goaltending help. Calgary is listed as the most likely destination in that scenario.

"Obviously, you want to play the last game and battle for the Cup, but that’s the way it is," Fleury said. "I was happy to get a chance again to lift the Cup. I think me and Matt did it together for the playoffs. I thought it would be nice to share with him.”

3. Murray mania: Quite simply, Matt Murray is making history unlike any goaltender in Cup history. He's the first goalie to win the Cup in his first two years in the league and is the first player not from the Detroit Red Wings to finish off a final with two straight shutouts. That was last done by Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk in 1952.

"I'm so honored to be a part of this team and this group of guys,” Murray said. “It means a lot to me to be out here for a second year in a row and to celebrate it with my family."

4. Quick whistle, brutal result: The scuttle is that officials had been told to blow plays dead more quickly to protect goaltenders from unnecessary contact. The problem is that when referee Kevin Pollock did that early in the second period of Game Six, the puck was sitting untouched in the crease in full view of 17,000 fans and not tucked away under Murray's body.

Colton Sissons dove and tapped it home for an apparent 1-0 Nashville lead but the play was negated by the whistle. The Predators never scored, never got the momentum surging through their crowd and their bench that a lead would have provided.

"It’s tough, that’s sports," said Preds captain Mike Fisher. "There’s human error in every sport. That’s the way it goes sometimes and we can’t control that unfortunately. That happens, and I’m sure he feels bad about it."

What's worse, the play could have gone to video replay and, for whatever reason, apparently did not.

5. The Sid and Geno Show: Evgeni Malkin led all playoff scorers with 28 points while Sidney Crosby was second with 27. They've won three Cups together and easily entered now on the list of the league's all-time great duos.

"These guys are special players. They're generational players. They're elite in their own way," said Sullivan. "They're two players of a very select few in the league that single-handedly have an ability to change the outcomes of games."

6. The PK Show: PK Subban was the center of attention through much of the series, then drew unwanted attention when the Predators held him away from the media prior to Game Six in violation of NHL policy. After the game, Subban was disappointed in the loss but still looking to the future.

"The dream’s probably happened a million times for most of us," he said. "Being that close, being two games away, 120 minutes away from lifting the Stanley Cup, it stinks. But for us, we did so many things well and this is such a tremendous run for our team. We have such a young team, I think we gained a ton of experience from this run."

Stanley Cup notebook: Subban stays silent

7. Rinne's up-and-down series: Preds goalie Pekka Rinne was a disaster on the road but had a 1.01 goals-against average and .963 save percentage in the three games at home. Still, he will forever rue looking over the wrong shoulder and allowing just enough space for Patric Hornqvist to bank home the Cup-winning goal in Game Six.

"I don’t want to sound selfish but I was treating this as a once in a lifetime opportunity," said Rinne. "You never know when you’re going to get another opportunity. The only thing I was thinking about was that Cup and dreaming about that and playing for that. Right now it’s tough to accept and tough to handle."

8. Where's the drama?:  The final was the only series in the entire playoffs that didn't feature a single one-goal game (the Penguins won Games One and Six by two after scoring an empty-netter). And we're in the midst of a long dearth of overtime in the final round as well.

Since Alec Martinez won the Cup for Los Angeles with a double-overtime goal in Game Five in 2014 against the New York Rangers, there have been three straight six-game series played to decide the Cup winner and only one of those 18 games went past regulation. That was Game Two of the Penguins' series last year against San Jose, won by a goal from Conor Sheary after just 2:35 of OT.

9. City of Champions: The Steelers tweeted congratulations to the Penguins in a rather unique way. with a graphic showing they trophies they've won (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, 2008) as well as the Pirates' five World Series trophies (1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979) and the Penguins' five Cups. That's 16 titles in all for Pittsburgh and 13 of them since 1970. Only Boston and New York can approach that. The city will honor the Penguins with a victory parade Wednesday morning.

10. Smashville Fans: Crosby may have gone home with the Conn Smythe but the first star in this series was unquestionably the fans of Nashville. There has never been a Cup final featuring this kind of civic participation, with an estimated 50,000 people jamming downtown to watch Game Three outside and nearly 100,000 in the city on Sunday for Game Six while the CMAFest was going on.

The atmosphere inside the building was electric right from the warmup, where 15,000 people stood in front of their seats roaring. Celebrities sang the anthem, the game was filled with cheers and group chants and the fans were rewarded with two historic victories in Games Three and Four.

When their heroes had been defeated in Game Six, the fans stayed and roared some more, sending their team off the ice to a chant of "Thank You, Predators." For those old enough to have the memory, it was reminiscent of the "Thank You, Sabres" chant that filled Memorial Auditorium in 1973 as the Sabres were being eliminated from their first playoff trip by Montreal.

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