When a team wins the Stanley Cup, almost always the first question that’s asked is: Where does that team stack up against the best teams ever? It’s not only a team question but it becomes a question for players who by winning the cup become closer to being compared to the best to ever play the game.
Last spring, following the Penguins overtime defeat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there became questions about the legacy of Sidney Crosby, the Pens captain who to that point hadn’t had a good series and didn’t have a good track record when it came to big games.
More than a year and two titles later, Crosby has all but silenced those questions with 33 points in 32 playoff games since that loss at home to the Lightning that pushed the Pens to the limit. Not only has Crosby won the title the past two seasons but he has also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP back to back years.
Many will argue for the cases of Evgeni Malkin who led the entire playoffs in scoring or Jake Guentzel who tied an NHL playoff record by recording 21 points in the postseason as a rookie. But as the phrase MVP says, it’s the most valuable player that wins this award.
While Crosby didn’t knock anyone’s socks off with his playoff numbers, he did what he has always done and that is getting everyone involved. Over the last two playoff runs, Crosby has made Conor Sheary and Guentzel into tremendous postseason performers with his perfect passes.
Guentzel would have never put up those numbers without his captain and therefore wouldn’t be a playoff MVP candidate if it wasn’t for Crosby. Crosby makes the Penguins go and totally is deserving for the award but certainly a case could be made for the Russian center who like Crosby, captured his third championship.
One could argue that without Crosby, Malkin would be the face of this league and would be the one being considered to be in the conversation for best ever. He most certainly is in that conversation as he cemented his legacy as a big time point producer in big games. Three championships, especially this day in age in which nearly every team has a shot to win is beyond impressive.
Big number 71 does have a Conn Smythe trophy to his credit back in 2009 and has been a big time player ever since his debut for the Pens. Two other Penguins won their third championship on Sunday night and neither of them played in the Final against Nashville.
Kris Letang had already established himself as one of the best defenseman in the game and was looking forward to another long playoff run before it was announced he would miss that entire run with a neck injury. Letang was able to participate in lifting his third Cup but his legacy certainly gets helped out with another championship.
While Letang missed the entire postseason, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played the first two rounds of the playoffs and was stellar, posting a 9-6 record with a 2.56 GAA and a .924 save percentage. However, Fleury got replaced by Matt Murray midway through the Conference Final and never got his job back. Fleury’s legacy certainly isn’t clean as he won his second title last season as a backup and won his third title in the same position. But his work in ’09 and two rounds this postseason can’t be ignored.
No folks, I didn’t forget about Chris Kunitz. The small, scrappy winger hasn’t always put up the big numbers in the playoffs but the numbers he puts up in big games are huge. Kunitz scored two goals including the game-winner in the Penguins overtime win in Game 7 against the Senators. That’s what he’s been known for his whole career is scoring at the perfect time. With the Pens win in Nashville on Sunday, Kunitz became the only active NHLer with four Stanley Cups. Obviously the three with Pittsburgh, but Kunitz also won a championship back in 2007 with the Anaheim Ducks.
Whenever a team wins a championship, the term legacy is always brought up and with this Pittsburgh Penguins team, that term is as relevant as ever. Not every legacy is perfect but anytime you win multiple championships, it’s certainly a special accomplishment.