Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions

Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby skates with the Stanley Cup after Game 6 on Sunday night.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby skates with the Stanley Cup after Game 6 on Sunday night.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Too many times, movie sequels fail to live up to the original.

Perhaps if he ever tires of hockey, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan can try Hollywood.

Sullivan and his Penguins put the finishing touches on a cinematic masterpiece on Sunday in Nashville, the final scene a 2-0 win over the Predators at Bridgestone Arena in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.

It meant the greatest trophy in sports will spend another summer in the Penguins’ possession, a back-to-back run of excellence that had not been seen since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for a second consecutive year.

“We knew it was going to be tough all year,”  Crosby said. “We just tried to keep with it. We had a lot of injuries. We kept finding ways. It’s great to be able to do it.”

Repeating as champions was one of the ingredients that made this championship such a special one, but it had several supporting parts, too.

Like the idea of winning a Stanley Cup without a top-flight defenseman, something the Penguins had to do when Kris Letang was lost for the season in early April when he had surgery to repair a hern­iated disc in his neck.

Or with a starting goaltender in Matt Murray who re-aggravated a groin injury with about eight minutes to go in warmup before the start of the postseason, only to see Marc-Andre Fleury re-assume his spot between the pipes and shine.

Sullivan also navigated his way through a rigorous, often insane schedule that included the World Cup of Hockey and a compressed slate of games in the regular season. Sunday marked the 213th game the Penguins have played since the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

Sullivan became the second coach in NHL history to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in his first two seasons with a team. Toe Blake was the only other coach to do it, in 1957.

More history was made with Crosby winning the Conn Smythe Trophy. He became the first back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner since Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux.

Postgame, Crosby’s handoff of the Cup was to Ron Hainsey, who had never before played a playoff game. Next came Matt Cullen, who may have played his last game in the NHL, and fellow veteran Chris Kunitz.

Even this one came down to the wire, too. Patric Hornqvist smacked the rebound of a Justin Schultz shot off of Pekka Rinne’s elbow at 18:25 of the third period.

The goal withstood a challenge from Nashville coach Peter Laviolette for goaltender interference before another of the Penguins’ Swedes, Carl Hagelin, added an empty-net goal with 13.6 seconds left.

Sullivan liked to say that the Penguins are comfortable adapting and playing any kind of game. That portability was on display Sunday, as Murray and Rinne were both terrific.

Murray entered the third period of a scoreless game having made 56 consecutive saves and wound up stretching that number to 63 before the night was out, a 27-save shutout.

Pittsburgh    0 0 2 — 2
Nashville    0 0 0 — 0
First Period—None. Penalties—Cole, PIT (Interference), 13:14.
Second Period—None. Penalties—Sheary, PIT (Tripping), 4:38.
Third Period—1, Pittsburgh, Hornqvist 5 (Schultz, Kunitz) 18:25. 2, Pittsburgh, Hagelin 2 (Dumoulin) 19:46 (en). Penalties—Maatta, PIT (Tripping), 7:19; Daley, PIT (Roughing), 8:47.
Shots on Goal—Pittsburgh 9-13-7—29. Nashville 8-11-8— 27.
Power-play opportunities—Nashville 0 of 4.
Goalies—Pittsburgh Murray 7-3-0 (27 shots-27 saves). Nashville Rinne 14-7-1 (28-27).
T—2:37. Referees—Kevin Pollock, Dan O’Halloran. Linesmen—Shane Heyer, Brad Kovachik.

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