NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Sidney Crosby is bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh for a second consecutive year.
Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 left and Matt Murray made 27 saves for his second straight shutout as the Penguins became the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as champion with a 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in today’s Game 6.
The Penguins won their fifth title — all of which have been clinched on the road — to tie the Wayne Gretzky-Mark Messier-era Edmonton Oilers for sixth on the all-time list. The Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ‘98 were the last champion to defend their title. The Penguins are the first to do it in the salary-cap era.
“We knew it was going to be tough all year, but we just tried to keep with it,” Crosby said. “We had a lot of injuries and things like that. We just kept finding ways. That was really what we did all season, all playoffs. It’s great to be able to do it.”
Crosby also won his second consecutive Conn Smythe Trophy as Stanley Cup MVP to go along with his third championship. He finished second on the team with 27 points (eight goals and 19 assists) in the postseason and was seemingly everywhere in Game 5 when he racked up three assists in a 6-0 win to put his team on the doorstep of another title.
“It goes by pretty quick, I’ll tell you that,” Crosby said. “It’s pretty special. … We found out just how tough it is, but it’s a great feeling.”
Hornqvist scored off Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne’s left elbow , the former Predator silencing the raucous crowd that had stood for long minutes and flung a few more catfish, too. Nashville challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld. With Pekka Rinne pulled for an extra attacker, Carl Hagelin set off a bench celebration with an empty netter with 13.6 seconds left.
“Obviously, it’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said. “That’s always going to stand really close to my heart.”
All that was left was the celebrating. Crosby took the Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before handing the trophy off to veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey who passed it to veteran forward Matt Cullen.
Nashville lost for just the first time in regulation on home ice this postseason and this one had some hard luck. Colton Sissons had a goal erased by a whistle 67 seconds into the second period. The Predators went 0 of 4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third.
“It stings,” said defenseman P.K. Subban, brought over in a trade stunner in the offseason and a foil for Crosby all series. “I think the biggest thing we’ve got to take from this is, remember the feeling. That’s what’s going to drive us. …. We’re going to be back here again next year.”
Murray became the first goalie to win not one, but two Stanley Cups as a rookie after being a late-season call up a year ago who didn’t play enough games to get that tag removed. That’s something neither Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden or Cam Ward ever managed, but the 23-year-old Murray finished this Final shutting out Nashville for the final 126:52. He set a rookie record with two shutouts in the Final.
“I just wanted to get it done, to be honest,” Murray said. “Didn’t want to get ahead of myself, just one shot at a time. The team played great in front of me, and we got it done in the last minute.”
The loss ended the upstart Predators’ deepest playoff run in the franchise’s 19-year history and one that became the talk of the town far beyond Music City.
Having won just three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville opened this postseason by eliminating the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in four games. In doing so, the Predators became the first eighth-seeded team to sweep a first-round series since the current playoff format was introduced in 1994. Nashville went through St. Louis and then Anaheim, with only captain Mike Fisher carrying any Cup Final experience on the roster.