Pen­guins re­tain Stan­ley Cup

Pitts­burgh beats Nashville for sec­ond straight NHL ti­tle.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - HELENE ELLIOTT

The Conn Smythe Tro­phy, awarded to the most valu­able player in the Stan­ley Cup play­offs, gleamed as it sat on the ta­ble to Sid­ney Crosby’s right. Near his left hand, within easy pat­ting dis­tance, was the Stan­ley Cup. It had been pol­ished to blind­ing bril­liance Sun­day af­ter­noon but had be­come smudged by ea­ger fin­gers and smooching lips in the mo­ments af­ter the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins claimed it again with a 2-0 vic­tory over the Nashville Preda­tors that ended the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal in six en­ter­tain­ing games.

It was déjà vu all over again for Crosby and for the Pen­guins, him win­ning the Conn Smythe two years in a row and them win­ning the Cup, mak­ing them the first team to win back-to-back

ti­tles since the Detroit Red Wings pre­vailed in 1997 and again in 1998. But it was any­thing but old hat for Crosby, who be­gan this sea­son in Septem­ber by be­ing cho­sen the MVP of Canada’s World Cup vic­tory and ended his 105th game by skat­ing around Bridge­stone Arena with hockey’s big­gest prize.

What mo­ti­vates him af­ter all these years, all these tro­phies, and now his third Cup cham­pi­onship? Sim­ple. “This feel­ing right here,” he said, his view tak­ing in both tro­phies. “You can’t match this. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Pen­guins clinched the fran­chise’s fifth ti­tle — all won on the road — when Pa­tric Horn­qvist pounced on the carom of a shot by Justin Schultz that had struck the end boards. Horn­qvist, a for­mer Preda­tor, banked a shot off the body of Nashville goal­tender Pekka Rinne and into the net with 95 sec­onds left in the third pe­riod, and Carl Hagelin clinched it by scor­ing into an empty net with 14 sec­onds to play, mak­ing the Pen­guins the first team to win a road game in this fi­nal.

At the end, the Pen­guins poured onto the ice in pure glee, tested by the gutsy Preda­tors but stand­ing above ev­ery­one else. “You can’t de­scribe it,” Schultz said. “When that fi­nal buzzer rang it was the best feel­ing in the world. It’s crazy.”

For Pen­guins for­ward Bryan Rust, the back-to­back ti­tles had spe­cial mean­ing. He was a Red Wings fan grow­ing up in Michi­gan and to be linked to their 1997 and 1998 teams car­ried great weight for him. “I’m get­ting chills just think­ing about it,” he said. “There’s a rea­son why it doesn’t hap­pen that of­ten. It’s in­cred­i­bly hard.”

What might have been the most sur­pris­ing as­pect of the fi­nal was that the Preda­tors were sup­posed to have the bet­ter goal­tend­ing and a bet­ter de­fense corps, es­pe­cially be­cause Pen­guins stand­out de­fense­man Kris Le­tang had un­der­gone neck surgery in early April and left his team with­out a min­utes-gob­bling, stud de­fense­man. But it was Pen­guins goalie Matt Mur­ray who shut out the Preda­tors for the fi­nal 123 min­utes and 23 sec­onds of the se­ries, aided by that sup­pos­edly weak de­fense. “Not too shabby for a ‘D’ corps that wasn’t very good, ev­ery­one said,” Pitts­burgh de­fense­man Ian Cole said as he cel­e­brated among the crowd of play­ers, team ex­ec­u­tives and fam­ily mem bers on the ice.

It was a sad end­ing for the Preda­tors, who were seeded No. 8 in the West be­fore they made the long­est play­off jour­ney in their his­tory and lit up a town and a re­gion. They be­lieved they had scored early in the sec­ond pe­riod, when Colton Sis­sons poked in the re­bound of a shot by Filip Fors­berg, but ref­eree Kevin Pol­lock im­me­di­ately waved it off on the ba­sis that he had blown the whis­tle be­fore the puck en­tered the net. The de­ci­sion stood de­spite the jeers of the Preda­tors’ loud and pas­sion­ate fans.

“There’s hu­man er­ror in ev­ery sport,” Preda­tors cap­tain Mike Fisher said, but coach Peter Lavi­o­lette wasn’t so philo­soph­i­cal.

“It’s more dif­fi­cult,” he said of los­ing on that dis­puted call. “Our guys’ hearts are heavy right now. We hate the re­sult but our guys gave a pretty good ef­fort, and it’s dif­fi­cult for us right now be­cause our sights were set on win­ning the cham­pi­onship, like any­body’s would be when you get to this point, and for that it’s dis­ap­point­ing.”

Crosby hasn’t known much dis­ap­point­ment lately, and his lat­est tri­umph ce­ments his sta­tus among the game’s greats. “You would have to think so,” said Chris Ku­nitz, now a four-time Cup cham­pion a decade af­ter he won with the 2007 Ducks. “The game changes and plays with more speed and he col­lects more points and has more aware­ness on the ice. It’s some­thing un­be­liev­able to be a part of, to be on the ice with a guy with such char­ac­ter and tal­ent.”

Crosby got the Cup first, as the team cap­tain, and passed it first to de­fense­man Ron Hain­sey, who had played 907 reg­u­lar-sea­son games be­fore he played a play­off con­test. From there, it went to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who’s con­tem­plat­ing re­tire­ment, to Ku­nitz, Ev­geni Malkin, Mark Streit and backup goalie Mar­cAn­dre Fleury.

“You have a small win­dow to play and to have a ca­reer and I feel for­tu­nate,” Crosby said. “But I also un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it is, so you just want to try to make the best of it.”

He and the Pen­guins did that. Again.

Fred­er­ick Bree­don Getty Images

A STUNNED CROWD watches as the Pen­guins cel­e­brate a third-pe­riod goal by Pa­tric Horn­qvist, sec­ond from left, near Preda­tors goalie Pekka Rinne.

Bruce Ben­nett Getty Images

SID­NEY CROSBY, win­ner of the Conn Smythe Tro­phy, hoists the Pen­guins’ Stan­ley Cup tro­phy.

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