SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Sidney Crosby let out a scream as he lifted the Stanley Cup above his head, a wide smile spread across his face.
The seven years of adversity since he last held the trophy were firmly in his past. The concussions that nearly derailed his career. The early playoff exits. The rough start to this season that led to a coach being fired.
Crosby and the Penguins are once again champions.
A kid no more and surrounded with new talent, Crosby set up Kris Letang’s go-ahead goal midway through the second period and Pittsburgh won the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history by beating the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 on Sunday night. Owner Mario Lemieux thrust his hands into the air in triumph high up in an arena suite and later hugged his superstar on the ice.
This title had been a long time coming.
“I was just thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, just trying to enjoy every second of it,” Crosby said. “It’s not easy to get here. Having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit. You don’t think you do at the time, but it’s not easy to get to this point.”
Brian Dumoulin opened the scoring with a power-play goal and Patric Hornqvist added a late empty-netter. Matt Murray made 18 saves to give the Penguins a championship seven years to the day after they beat Detroit for their third title. The game ended when Crosby cleared the puck the length of the ice with San Jose on the power play, setting off a wild celebration.
All that was left was for Crosby to accept the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP and then the Stanley Cup.
“He’s a special player for a reason,” teammate Chris Kunitz said. “He can adapt and change his game to different things. Early in his career he went out and got points and did everything but that didn’t make him satisfied. He had to go out and lead through example and became a better player.”
Three nights after squandering a chance to become the first Pittsburgh team to win a title in front of the home fans in 56 years, the Penguins finished the job on the road just like they did in Minnesota (1991), Chicago (1992) and Detroit (2009) in past title runs.
The championship in Detroit was supposed to be the first of many for a team led by players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But a series of concussions cost Crosby almost an entire season and a half, and there were those playoff disappointments that included twice blowing 3-1 series leads. There was no second celebration in the Crosby era — until now.
“It’s so hard to win it year after year,” said Lemieux, who won back-to-back titles and Conn Smythe trophies as a player for Pittsburgh. “For them to be able to come through this year and win their second Cup is big. Hopefully there’s a few more for them.”
This didn’t seem like it would be a season to remember back in early December when the Penguins were the near the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference and coach Mike Johnston was fired.
But led by coach Mike Sullivan, the Penguins recovered to make the playoffs as the second-place team in the Metropolitan Division after some shrewd moves by general manager Jim Rutherford, who put together the entire “HBK line” of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel over the past year as well as other key acquisitions.
Pittsburgh knocked off the New York Rangers in the first round, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington in round two and then rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to beat Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference final.
“In the playoffs, suddenly we thought we could beat any team,” Malkin said. “We tried to play the same game we played in 2009.”