Star powered Pittsburgh Penguins display grit in Stanley Cup win
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the big names on the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, it wasn’t about star power as the Penguins celebrated their fourth Stanley Cup and first since defeating the Detroit Red Wings in 2009.
In a grinding six-game victory over the San Jose Sharks, it wasn’t about star power or fire power, it was about grinding and digging and playing for each other. Yes, this team can fly up and down the ice as if its pants were on fire, but it can also bump and grind with the best of them.
They were also beaten down physically. Matt Cullen fractured his toe and was given a shot before each of the final 11 playoff games while Bryan Rust could not shake hands because his right hand hurt so badly.
No one finished in the top three in playoff scoring but had 11 guys account for the 16-game winning goals.
“It was pretty amazing how everybody seemed to have a big piece of the pie,” Cullen told the media after winning the Cup. “Everybody, at a different point, stepped up and made a big difference.”
This one wasn’t easy. Mike Sullivan replaced Coach Mike Johnston in December and allowed Crosby and Malkin to play freely but emphasized defense to the entire team. He knew he had goal scorers that could light up the scoreboard at Consol Energy Center. However, he wanted to win the entire thing and mixed in defensive wiz along with emphasizing better skating.
“Mike came in and made it pretty clear how he wanted us to play, what he expected from each individual guy,” Crosby said. “I think guys just welcomed the opportunity, welcomed the challenged, and tried to get back on track.”
General Manager Jim Rutherford, 67, appeared to be on his way out as quickly as he came. In 2014 he was the over the hill executive who built Carolina into a Cup champion but missed five straight playoffs and left an organization filled with bad contracts.
He was a retread in Pittsburgh who was supposed to groom his successor. However, Rutherford went to work on building a champion. He found forwards who could skate with Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins needed help on defense and he got rid of defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik through free agency and brought in cheaper talent in Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy.
He made other key moves but the biggest might have been Sullivan. Johnston was a conservative coach but the Penguins needed to let loose more.
It was not an overnight success, but guys bought into Sullivan who wanted stingy defense and better skating. The Penguins forced the Sharks into quick decisions and finally won Game 6 in enemy territory, 3-1.
“These guys have been receptive to our message from day one,” Sullivan said. “As I’ve said to them all along, I know our team is going to score goals. In order to win championships, you got to keep it out of your net. Everybody has to buy into that idea for us to get to where we want to go. To their credit, they did, down to a man.”
Now Sullivan and Rutherford are a team until Rutherford decides to step away.