Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup History

Mario holding the Stanley Cup after the 1991 win

The Penguins were founded in the NHL expansion draft in 1967 and were pretty bad for many years. However, in 1984, the Pens won the right to draft one of the two greatest players to ever play hockey (the other being Wayne Gretzky): Mario Lemiex. In his rookie season, he played in 73 games and scored 100 points. In his second season, he was even better, playing in 79 games and scoring 141 points, finishing second in the league for the Hart Trophy for league MVP, after Gretzsky. However, the team was still doing poorly. They had to get some better players around him. During his fourth season, he scored a whopping 168 points to lead the league in points scored and won his first Hart Trophy for league MVP. In 1888-89, he did even better, finishing with 199 points, again leading the league in scoring and yet somehow finishing second in Hart Trophy voting. However, management was finally starting to acquire good players to put around him so the Pens could make it to the playoffs and seriously contend for the Stanley Cup. In 1990, Lemieux only was able to play in 59 games due to injury, yet still scored an amazing 123 points. New players coming to the team included Mark Recchi, John Cullen, and Kevin Stevens, all excellent scorers. The Pens had already acquired one of the greatest scoring defensemen in league history from Edmonton in Paul Coffey, and he had been making some excellent contributions. By the 1990-1991 season, the team was ready for greatness. However, Mario was beginning to show some serious health problems. He had very bad back problems that was causing him to miss many games. His herniated disc flared up during the season and he was able to play in only 26 games, finishing with 45 points, a great disappointment for him. But the new players took over and put the team on their backs. The new scorers were scoring at a frantic pace and the GM pulled off a blockbuster trade midway through the season when he traded Cullen and two other minor players to Hartford for ultimate scorer Ron Francis, enforcer Grant Jennings, and huge Ulf Samuelsson, the enforcer the team had been looking for for a long time. All of a sudden, other teams were afraid of Pittsburgh and with good reason, because if they tried anything dirty and hit any of the stars, Samuelsson would pound them until they couldn't get back on the ice again. It was these players, and exceptional goalie Tom Barrasso, who led the team into the playoffs, just in time for Mario to return to the team. Re-engerized by their leader's return, the team rolled through the playoffs to face Minnesota in the Stanley Cup finals. In a best of seven series, Pittsburgh won 4-2 and won their first Stanley Cup. Lemieux led the team in scoring with an amazing 44 playoff points and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. A fitting end to the season.

Mario holding the Stanley Cup after the 1991 win

The 1991-1992 season started off on a sad note when beloved coach Bob Johnson died from cancer. Famous coach Scotty Bowman was hired to replace him, and he had won more games than any other coach in NHL history, but his style was very different and, at first, didn't go over very well with the players. They struggled with him all year. Still, they made the playoffs again with rookie phenom Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, and goalie Tom Barrasso leading the way. This year, however, they had Mario for the whole season, or most of it. In 64 games, he scored 131 points, leading the league once again and winning another Hart Trophy for MVP of the league. Still, there were some controversial midseason trades. The GM traded Mark Recchi and the great Paul Coffey for Rick Tocchet, backup goalie Ken Wreggett, who played sparingly until 1993, and three other largely forgettable players. Aside from Tocchet, it loooked like a terrible trade for the Pens. Whatever the case, Pittsburgh had trouble in their first two series against Washington and the Rangers, winning both in seven games, but then they swept Boston on their way to meeting the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. With Lemieux leading the way, scoring a league high 34 points playoff points and winning his second straight Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP, the Pens swept Chicago to claim their second straight Stanley Cup and it felt like a dynasty was born.

1992 Pens Stanley Cup-winning team

The trouble was, that dynasty never materialized. The following year, the Pens went 56-21-7 for 119 points, a club best, but was ousted in the playoffs early. And so it went for the rest of the 1990s as the team gradually disintegrated. In 1993, Mario Lemieux shocked the world by announcing he had Hodgkin's lymphoma disease and his career was in doubt. During the 1993 season, he played in 60 games, scoring 160 amazing points to lead the league and winning yet another Hart Trophy, but by 1994, his illness had taken over. He was held to 22 games and only scored 37 points. In 1996, he stated that he was making a comeback and he played in 70 games, scoring 161 points to once again lead the league and win yet another Hart Trophy, and in 1997, he played in 76 games, scoring 122 points to lead the league once again, winning yet another Hart Trophy. By this time, they should have renamed it the Mario Trophy. Unfortunately, he decided after this year to retire prematurely and end his career before he could pass Gretzky in the stats as the best player of all time.

In 2000-2001, Mario couldn't stay away from the game anymore and had been healed of his cancer, so he returned to the team, which he now owned. He played in 43 games, scoring 76 points, played in 24 games the following year, scoring 31 points, played in 67 games the following year, scoring 91 points, and played parts of two more seasons before retiring for good. By that time, the team had drafted team savior Sidney Crosby with Malkin coming along the next year, and while rebuilding again, things looked good down the road.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh's newest superstars

Pittsburgh spent the next several years putting the personnel pieces of the puzzle together to make a Stanley Cup run and in the 2007-2008 season, they finally accomplished their goal. While superstar Sidney Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were out with long term injuries, other players stepped forward to carry the team, most notably Evgeni Malkin. Malkin finished the season with the second most points in the league and as a finalist for the Hart Trophy. But Pittsburgh's GM knew the team needed help, so he traded for goalie Ty Conklin, left winger Pascal Dupuis, soon to be a crowd favorite, and superstar right winger Marian Hossa. Other players stepped up. These included high scoring defenseman Sergei Gonchar, whose 65 points placed him third on the team and who had a very impressive plus 13 record. Nineteen-year-old center Jordan Staal was a tough bottom six player willing to mix it up who scored 28 points and for whom great things were predicted. Young defenseman Kris Letang was learning from the veteran defensemen and only played in 63 games, but he averaged over 18 minutes of ice time and he scored 17 points. Another tough, veteran defensman was Brooks Orpik, not a scorer with only 11 points, but capable of great defense and body crunching hits to his opponents. Maxime Talbot was a young center who played in 63 games and scored 26 points, while left winger Ryan Malone scored 51 points. Finally, the team got one more piece of the puzzle for the playoffs in right winger Petr Sykora, who came from Edmonton and who scored 63 points in the regular season, putting him fourth on the team's list of scorers.

With the players in place, the team finished first in the Atlanta Division under coach Michel Therrien with a 47-27-8 record and 102 points. The team then went on a roll in the playoffs, sweeping Ottawa 4-0, beating the Rangers 4-1, defeating hated rivals Philadelphia 4-1 to get to the Stanley Cup finals where they would face the Detroit Red Wings, a proud franchise that had won a number of Stanley Cups. The finals were very competetive, but it seemed like Detroit held the upper hand most of the way. Game One was easily won by Detroit 4-0. It was more of the same in Game Two when Detroit won 3-0. Two games, two shutouts. The Pens got off 22 shots to Detroit's 34 shots. Something had to change. Maybe going back to Pittsburgh would help. It did. The Pens won 3-2 on two big goals by Sidney Crosby and another by Adam Hall in Game Three. The shot ratio was still bad though, as Pittsburgh only got off 24 shots to Detroit's 34 shots. Detroit won Game Four 2-1. Marian Hossa scored Pittsburgh's only goal. Pittsburgh got off only 23 shots while Detroit got off 30. Things didn't look good. The teams headed back to Detroit for Game Five. It was hotly contested and went into three overtimes before the Penguins prevailed 4-3 to force a Game Six. In this game, Hossa and Hall scored first period goals, while Maxime Talbot scored with 35 seconds left to send the game into overtime. And in the third overtime, around the 10 minute mark, Petr Sykora scored the game winning goal with assists from Malkin and Gonchar. The shot differential was horrifying though. Pittsburgh got off 32 shots for what was essentially two full games while Detroit got off 58 shots. Completely unacceptable. No defense, and Pittsburgh had some good defensemen. Where were they? I guess not letting in too many goals on so many shots. Game Six was crucial because Detroit wanted to finish the series and not let it get to a Game Seven, where anything could happen, and Pittsburgh obviously wanted two more wins. Unfortunately, for the Pens, it was not meant to be. Detroit squeezed out a 3-2 win and took home the Stanley Cup. For Pittsburgh, Malkin and Hossa scored and once again, the team was outshot, with Pittsburgh getting off 22 shots to Detroit's 30. Something for the team to work on in the offseason. It was a good experience for the team and even though the outcome was disappointing, it just made the team more hungry for another chance to get back to this point and win it all. Who could have predicted it would happen so soon again?

The 2008-2009 season started out with high expectations. There had been a huge personnel turnover in the offseason, with many players leaving and many new faces arriving. This is usually bad for most teams as it disrupts team chemistry and it takes awhile for new teammates to gell together and learn how to play as a team. Among the players who left were goalie Ty Conklin, who signed with Detroit, and to everyone's shock, Marian Hossa, who also signed with Detroit, immediately gaining every Pittsburgh's fans hatred by saying he thought he had a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup in Detroit than he did in Pittsburgh. Those are fighting words! Most of the other players the team lost were minor players. However, the team traded for two notable players in Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, both of whom who would play pivitol roles in the next Stanley Cup finals. Kunitz would score 19 points in 24 playoff games and Guerin would score 15 points in 24 playoff games that year. The team also signed a number of new players, including left winger Matt Cooke, who became an integral member of the team, and right winger Craig Adams, who played sparingly in the playoffs, but who went on to play seven seasons with the Penguins. The team also signed enforcer Eric Godard, who put up 171 penalty minutes during the 2008-09 season.

Even with the personnel changes, the team gelled and finished with a 45-28-9 record, good for 99 points and second place in the division, after New Jesey. They did this with a mid-season coaching change that really seemed to energize the team. Evgeni Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring with 113 points. Pittsburgh's first opponent in the playoffs would be hated rival Philadelphia. The Pens won the first round of their playoffs series against Philly 4-2 and went on to play Washington where the series went the whole seven games. There were three overtime games, but Pittsburgh prevailed to win the series 4-3 and move on to the conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, a team they swept 4-0. Finally they reached the Stanley Cup finals again, and their opponent for the second year in a row was Detroit. To say they wanted this badly would be an understatement.

Game One went Detroit's way, again, 3-1. Rusian Fedotenko scored Pittsburgh's lone goal. Detroit also took Game Two by the same 3-1 score, with Malkin scoring Pittsburgh's lone goal. If something didn't change rapidly, this would turn out to be a repeat of last year. Something did change. Game Three was in Pittsburgh and the Pens finally came through with a win, 4-2. Maxime Talbot scored two goals, while Letang and Gonchar scored the other two. The Pens evened the series with another 4-2 win in the next game, with Malkin, Staal, Crosby, and Tyler Kennedy all scoring goals. Fleury stopped 37 out of 39 shots for a .949 save percentage and the win. Game Five was in Detroit again and the Red Wings were determined to win and, boy, did they, with a 5-0 score to take a 3-2 lead in the series. All of a sudden, Pittsburgh was facing, not one, but possibly two elimination games. It was imperitive that they win two in a row. Game Six was back in Pittsburgh and the Pens held their own, winning a tight one with a 2-1 score. Staal and Kennedy scored the goals and Fleury stopped 25 out of 26 shots for a .962 save percentage and a very important win. Finally, the deciding elimination game was here for both teams. The winner got the Stanley Cup. And it was in Detroit. An unlikely hero would emerge who would always go down in Pittsburgh hockey lore as the player who won us our third Cup. In the first period, Maxime Talbot scored two goals and that was enough as Pittsburgh hung on for a 2-1 win and their third Stanley Cup! Fleury stopped 23 out of 24 shots for a .958 save percentage and the ultimate win and he was a major reason the Pens won the Cup. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and two days later, a parade was held in downtown Pittsburgh.

Sidney Crosby holding the 2009 Stanley Cup

In 2016, the Penguins won their fourth Stanley Cup against the San Jose Sharks. That story is told on the main page of this website. You can locate it here: Penguins Fourth Stanley Cup.

Pittsburgh's Four Stanley Cups

Some of Pittsburgh's favorite sons holding each of the Penguins' four Stanley Cups. Adding a fifth in 2017 seems like a great idea.