NASHVILLE—Sidney Crosby is bringing the Stanley Cup back home to Pittsburgh for a second-straight year.
He's bringing another MVP trophy, too.
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 Game 6 last night.
The Penguins won their fifth title—all of them 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 noted.
"We had a lot of injuries and things like that. [But] we just kept finding ways.
“That was really what we did all season, all playoffs," he added. "It's great to be able to do it.”
Crosby also became just the third player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive years as the Stanley Cup MVP to go along with his third championship.
He led the final in scoring with one goal and six assists, including three in a 6-0 win in Game 5 that put the Penguins on the doorstep of another title.
Only teammate Evgeni Malkin (28 points) had more than Crosby's 27 this post-season.
“You have a small window to play and have a career," Crosby stressed. "I feel fortunate, but I also understand how difficult it was so you just want to try to make the best of it.”
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.
Then with 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 defenceman Ron Hainsey, who then passed it to veteran forward Matt Cullen.
Nashville lost for just the first time in regulation on home ice this post-season—and this one had some hard luck.
Colton Sissons had a goal erased by a whistle 67 seconds into the second period.
The Predators also went 0-for-4 with the man advantage, including 32 seconds of a 5-on-3 in the third.
“It stings,” said defenceman P.K. Subban, brought over in a trade stunner in the off-season and a foil for Crosby all series.
“I think the biggest thing we've got to take from this is, remember the feeling,” he noted.
“That's what's going to drive us. . . . We're going to be back here again next year.”
The Penguins will cap their 50th season with their names on the most famous silver cup in sports—again.
It is also the third championship for Crosby and a handful of teammates from the 2009 title team, surpassing the two won by the Penguins' teams led by current owner Mario Lemieux in the 1990s.
And it's the second championship in 18 months for coach Mike Sullivan, who has yet to lose a playoff series since taking over after Mike Johnston was fired.
Sullivan is the first American-born coach to win the Cup not once but twice.
Murray, meanwhile, 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 146:52.
He set a rookie record with two shutouts in the final.
“What an experience," Murray said. "It doesn't get any better.”
The loss ended the upstart Predators' deepest playoff run in their 19-year history and one that became the talk of the town—and the league.
Having won just three of 12 playoff series before this year, Nashville opened the post-season 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 to the final, where only captain Mike Fisher on the roster had ever played before.
Meanwhile, this championship season for the Penguins lacked some of the drama from a year ago, but it was far from a slam dunk.
Washington won the President's Trophy for a second-straight season and pushed Pittsburgh to seven games in the second round.
Ottawa did the same thing—forcing the Penguins to double overtime to clinch the Eastern Conference title.
Crosby, Malkin, and others also played in the World Cup of Hockey before the season, making this an even longer year than usual.
In the end, the Penguins had more than enough in the tank to bring home another title.
“We've got a collection of guys who understand what it takes to win,” Crosby said.