Ten years since the Pittsburgh Penguins ended their Stanley Cup Drought
We look back at the incredible performance of the Penguins that led to them lifting the trophy in 2009
The sight of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL postseason is taken pretty much as standard these days, and indeed they’ve gone all the way to lift the Stanley Cup in two of the last three seasons. However, it wasn’t always that way.
In the early part of the century, they went four straight seasons with fewer than 30 regular season wins and had to properly claw their way back into postseason contention.
In times like those, one good run can sometimes not be enough unless there’s a title at the end of it all, which makes it all the more important that their Stanley Cup finals defeat in 2008 was followed by them going one step further the following year.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of that win, and with Mike Sullivan looking to deliver success once more, it’s time to look back at a monumental series which ended a 17-year dry spell for the Penguins.
As is so often the case in big four sports, the successful postseason team actually picked up fewer points over the regular season than the runners-up of the year before.
Indeed, the Penguins endured some difficult form in January and February which saw previous season’s coach Michel Therrien shown the exit, with Dan Bylsma stepping up to take the role on an interim basis.
Bylsma was young at the time – just 38 years old, and two months older than one of his players, Bill Guerin. It was a move which could easily have failed, but instead it went the other way with Bylsma overseeing 18 wins from 25 to lead the Penguins back into the playoffs and earn himself the gig on a permanent basis.
“Dan has done such an impressive job with our team, both on and off the ice, that we didn’t see the need to wait any longer to announce our decision,” general manager Ray Shero said of the “easy” decision to give Bylsma the permanent post before the playoffs, and the management were rewarded for their faith in the inexperienced replacement.
It’s often the case that momentum plays a huge role in big four sports, and so it proved with the Penguins in 2009.
The Philadelphia Flyers were despatched 4-2 in the conference quarter-finals, before Sidney Crosby got the better of the Crosby-Ovechkin battle in a tense 4-3 series triumph over the Washington Capitals.
Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin notched eight goals apiece in the series, but the Canadian was the man to come out on top when it came to his team’s performance, with victory sealed in by a comprehensive 6-2 scoreline in the final game.
A whitewash of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Conference Finals almost felt like an anti-climax after the tension of the previous round, but it didn’t bother Bylsma and his players too much – after all, the Stanley Cup final threw up the opportunity to wreak revenge on the Detroit Red Wings, who had beat them at the same stage the year before.
When each of the first two games went to Detroit it looked like history might repeat itself, but a slapshot from Sergei Gonchar in the third period of the third game gave the Penguins hope for the series.
After a fantastic run up until the Stanley Cup, star man Sidney Crosby had been uncharacteristically quiet in front of goal. However, when he made an impact it was a big one: his goal put Pittsburgh ahead in game four, and suddenly it was all square.
The Red Wings had comfortably out-shot their opponents in those two defeats, and the big win which some felt was always possible came in game five. And yet the Penguins didn’t crumble after that 5-0 reverse, returning with back-to-back 2-1 wins to sneak the series 4-3.
Marc-André Fleury was the hero in the deciding game, with the goaltender making a huge diving save with just seconds left on the clock to keep the Penguins ahead in the game and the series.
A fair bit has changed in the decade since, but there remain some constants: Crosby remains captain, as he was back in 2009, while Evgeni Malkin is also still involved after his starring role against the Red Wings.
If Pittsburgh can chalk up another title, 10 years on from that glorious victory, it will be quite the achievement.