Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, which may be the hardest thing to do in professional sports. Much will be said about the Penguins’ patchwork defense in the playoffs and in the series; however, when your core is Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, you don’t have to worry quite as much about defense. The series ended on a high note, with the clincher unquestionably the best game in the series in a 2-0 Matt Murray shutout of the Nashville Predators.
The game was close throughout. The Predators appeared to take the lead in the second period. Unfortunately, they were robbed of a goal when their obvious score was called back due to “intent to blow the whistle” by the ref. While many will debate this call, by the rules, and officiating practices it was correct. However, for the ref to be as terribly out of position as he was and still make the call, it is inexcusable. The ref blew the whistle while he was skating down the ice above the goal line, as opposed to directly behind the net where he is supposed to be while the puck is in the zone.
To the refs’ credit, they made a multitude of makeup calls including giving the Predators a 5-on-3 power play in a clinching game in the Final, which is relatively unheard of. The Predators didn’t take advantage, and that’s on them. If a team is given that many chances, they have to convert and they didn’t and that’s why there isn’t a Game 7.
The series winner came with under two minutes left in the game by Patric Hornqvist, ironically a 2005 Predators seventh-round pick, who threw the puck to the net from behind the goal line and it bounced off of the back of Pekka Rinne’s glove and in. Carl Hagelin and his speed made the game 2-0 shortly after on an empty net goal with 13 seconds remaining.
It's tough to pin a single loss on a player, but the Preds lost the final largely due to Rinne’s inconsistent play. During the series, his best games came at home, but on the road he was terrible. Rinne will still finish with the top save percentage in the playoffs with a .928%, but in the finals, he went only .866% and on the road, it was an abysmal .756%.
Sidney Crosby became the third player to win back to back Conn Smythe Trophies - and the first since his owner, Mario Lemieux, won two straight in 1991 and 1992. Regardless lf your feelings about Crosby, naming him the playoffs MVP feels like the right call. If you want to talk about Jake Guentzel’s goals, you have to talk about how many of them came from tape to tape passed delivered by Crosby. He was a force to be reckoned with throughout the playoffs.
After a brief stroll around the rink, Crosby handed the Cup to Ron Hainsey, who had not even played a single playoff game until this season. The cup was then handed to another former Cane, Matt Cullen, who is likely to retire this offseason.
For Marc-Andre Fleury, it is likely his last game in a Penguins sweater, and he gets to go out on top as he probablu heads to Vegas this offseason. On the other side, Predators captain Mike Fisher will have a tough decision to make. If they won the Cup this year, he would have surely retired. However, coming this close and falling short, he may come back for one last chance.
The 2016-2017 season has now come to a close, and many teams will look very different when they return in September next season. The next stop is nine days away at the NHL Awards ceremony and announcement of the Vegas Golden Knights’ roster. So, for the majority of NHL fans who are not Penguins fans, there is something to look forward to very soon.