On Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins become the first NHL team to win consecutive Stanley Cup championships since the start of the salary cap era.
That can hurt egos and bruise the pride of players and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team pushes the players hard resulting in it not always being warm and happy in the locker room.
However, all the agony of making that difficult journey was forgotten on Sunday when Pittsburgh beat Nashville 2-0 to win the Stanley Cup Finals thanks in part by superb goaltending by Matt Murray and a late goal by Patric Hornqvist. It is the fifth Stanley Cup title for the franchise.
This team is special. It represents a collection of unique talent and is probably one that should be considered a dynasty. Over the past 10 years, the team has reached five conference finals, played in four Stanley Cup Finals and won three.
With stars like Sidney Crosby as well as Evgeni Malkin the leaders, Pittsburgh can use talent to dominate, but the mental toughness it has, carried the team to two NHL titles the last 12 months.
Sullivan said he does not believe there are two better hockey players today to build a team around than Crosby and Malkin. In this Cup run, the two combined to score 18 goals and 55 total points.
Pittsburgh’s top defenseman Kris Letang was injured and lost for the postseason prior to the start of the playoffs. The Penguins are likely the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup without an elite, big-minute defenseman in 11 years when the Carolina Hurricanes did in 2006.
Crosby is called by many one of the best to ever play hockey and now with his third Stanley Cup title and a pair of Conn Smythe trophies, he has cemented that fact.
Pittsburgh did not like talking about repeating during the season and playoffs, but players had it on their minds. They were aware the last team to successfully defend their Stanley Cup title was the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
Now the big question is if the team can win for a third straight season. Top players Malkin, Crosby, Letang and Phil Kessel are signed long term while goalie Murray is a foundation block. Other top players such as Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel are young and getting better each year.
There are a few free agents such as Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley that could leave, but there is an opportunity with this gutsy team to win a third straight Stanley Cup title.