NASHVILLE — The Pittsburgh Penguins joined the NHL's pantheon of great teams Sunday night, becoming the first to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 19 years and fulfilling their destiny as a dynasty.
With a 2-0 victory over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena, the Penguins joined the Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, as well as their 1991 and '92 Penguins predecessors as repeat winners. These Penguins separate themselves as the first to claim the Cup in successive seasons in the salary-cap era.
When it comes to dynamic forward duos, Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin now belong in the conversation with Edmonton Oilers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and New York Islanders Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier — not to mention Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
“You know, we set out to try to go back-to-back,” Crosby said. “We knew it was going to be difficult, but I think that's probably where the most joy comes out of, is just knowing how difficult it is now to go back-to-back and knowing that we overcame all those things. It's a pretty special group. I'll say that.”
Though they didn't do it alone, Crosby and Malkin served as catalysts in this Stanley Cup run. They finished Nos. 1 and 2 in scoring in these playoffs, as Malkin had 28 points (10 goals) and Crosby 27 (eight goals) — much like in 2009, when Malkin scored 36 points and Crosby 31.
They showed their leadership against Nashville, with Malkin speaking up and assuring victory before Game 5 and Crosby answering the call with a series-turning breakaway that set the tone for a 6-0 victory.
Not only did Crosby and Malkin match the feat of the 1991 and '92 Penguins by winning back-to-back titles, they escaped the long shadow cast over their team by Lemieux and Jagr on the 25th anniversary of that Penguins team winning back-to-back Cup championships.
While Crosby and Malkin might never match the statistical stardom of their predecessors, they now have three Cup championships to their credit. That's one more than Lemieux and Jagr won together. And if we recognize teams by their championships more than their individual accomplishments, Crosby and Malkin now go down as the greatest duo in the history of the City of Champions.
No tandem has produced more titles than Crosby and Malkin, who first won the Cup in 2009 before the back-to-back championships. Nor has any duo had as much to do with winning those crowns, as Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009, Crosby in '16 and again this year.
Not only did the Pirates not win back-to-back World Series but their titles came with superstars at opposite ends of their careers. The Steelers of the 1970s twice won back-to-back Super Bowls but did so not with dynamic duos but Hall of Famers at every skill position. Ben Roethlisberger had a different MVP receiver for his first Super Bowl victory, with Hines Ward, than his second, with Santonio Holmes.
Crosby and Malkin are one of a kind in Pittsburgh lore, and their respect for one another showed when Crosby mentioned Malkin first as a player he would have picked if he had a vote for the Conn Smythe. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn't take that chemistry for granted, and said he didn't know of two better players to build a franchise around.
“These guys are special players. They're generational players. They're elite in their own way. They're different players, but they're both elite in their own way,” Sullivan said. “I really believe in just my time here with both guys, they've grown to be appreciative for one another and how they help each other have success and this team.
“And so when there are nights when maybe Sid might not have his A-game, that Geno steps up and helps this team win and vice versa. There are other nights where Geno might not have his A-game and Sid steps up and makes a big play to help this team win. They're two players of a very select few in the league that single-handedly have an ability to change the outcomes of games.”
Crosby and Malkin did, like no other Pittsburgh duo.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.