During the 2015-2016 year, the Pittsburgh Penguins came from twelfth place in the NHL's Eastern Conference to finish second overall in the conference with a 48-26-8 record, for 104 points. It was a remarkable turnaround and it signaled the beginning of a special playoff series, one that culminated in Pittsburgh beating a tough San Jose team four games to two to win its fourth Stanley Cup Trophy in team history. It was an historic year.
The year was historic for more than just one reason. The team started out being coached by second year coach Mike Johnston, a much hated coach whose style didn't seem to resonate well with the players or the fans. His previous year's team had been a big disappointment, underachievers, and he started this season with a new star in Phil Kessel, brought in as the league's third highest scoring player the year before, and with some of the highest paid stars in the league in Pittsburgh in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Of these, both Crosby and Malkin had both been Hart Trophy winners, for league MVP, and league scoring champs. Crosby was widely acknowledged as the best player in the world and had been for a decade, even though he was still rather young.
The team got off to a terrible start and Crosby couldn't score to save his life. He had never seen a scoring drought like this. By mid-December, Crosby had something like eight or nine points, when the year before he had been third in the league in scoring, and now the team was doing terribly. This was a team that was supposed to compete for the Stanley Cup, and it was twelfth in the Eastern Conference standings. GM Jim Rutherford did the right thing and fired the coach, hiring Pittsburgh minor league and former Boston Bruin head coach Mike Sullivan to become head coach. It took a few games, but things started turning around. Additionally, Rutherford made some mid-season trades and got some new personnel in, a couple of good players especially in Carl Hagelin and Trevor Daley, and the team took off. After January 1st, the Penguins had the best record in hockey and won all but one of their last 16 games going into the playoffs.
Some things happened to turn the Penguins around, other than the addition of the new veterans. Crosby started scoring in bunches for his new coach. After the beginning of the year, no one scored more than he did and he ended the season as the third highest scorer in the league. Kessel, too, turned it on over the course of the last two months. Fleury was the team's regular season MVP, keeping the team in games time after time and winning numerous games with his great goaltending -- until he had a season ending injury with a concussion. The third and fourth lines stepped up, with Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, and Eric Fehr playing key roles. Finally, the rookies stepped up at mid-season and became forces to be reckoned with. Right Winger Tom Kuhnhackl played 42 games and scored 15 points, as well as five points in the playoffs. Right Winger Bryan Rust played 23 games and scored 11 points, including a couple of big game winners, as well as nine playoff points. Left Winger Conor Sheary played 23 games on the first line with Crosby, showing his speed every night, and scored 10 points, including 10 in the playoffs. And rookie superstar goalie of the present and future, Matt Murray, played 13 regular season games, going 9-2-1 with a 2.00 goals against average and filling in for Fleury admirably. He went on to start for Fleury in the Stanley Cup playoffs and led the team to the Stanley Cup, something only two other rookie goaltenders have ever done, and in my opinion, he was the MVP of the playoffs. Without him, we wouldn't have won the Cup. In the playoffs, he played 21 games, compiling a 15-6 record with a 2.08 goals against average. He was simply incredible. Without the rookies, we wouldn't have won the Stanley Cup. Without any of these players playing as they did as described in this paragraph, Pittsburgh wouldn't have won its fourth Stanley Cup. Frankly, they looked like a team of destiny. They were not to be denied.