Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Get ready, Pittsburgh: Stanley Cup is coming

June 7, 2016

San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun (61) battles Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby (87) for the puck in the first period of Game 4 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on Monday, June 6, 2016 at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

SAN JOSE, Calif. —They were named for an opera house that resembled an igloo. Their first general manager hated that name from the first day.
That opera house is now a parking lot.
Across the street from it Thursday night, the Penguins can hit a note unlike any Pittsburgh has heard in 56 years.
The Stanley Cup is coming to Consol Energy Center, and it doesn't have to leave anytime soon. One more win over the San Jose Sharks will hook the Penguins a fourth NHL championship.
But for there to be a 16th (and final) victory of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a hockey club first must earn a 15th win. That is precisely what the Penguins did Monday night. They absolutely earned a 3-1 win at SAP Center.
Their penalty kill — not exactly the calling card of clubs throughout franchise history — is what earned it. Late in the second period, with winger Bryan Rust serving a minor penalty for having hooked Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, the Penguins were presented their biggest challenge of this Final.
Coming into the series, the Sharks power play had proven to be menacing. Operating then at a 27 percent efficiency, that power play was probably the biggest threat to the Penguins. Although the Sharks had scored on just 1 of 7 power plays prior to their second-period opportunity, their struggles didn't change the situation in Game 4.
A goal would dramatically alter the pivotal contest of the Final.
Don't think the Penguins didn't know the deal, either.
“Especially when you're playing against a power play like theirs, you have to be at your best on the PK,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “You have to block shots. You have to sacrifice your body for the kill.”
So in front of Burns' powerful shot lunged centers Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino. In between their efforts, defenseman Brian Dumoulin smartly pinned against the neutral-zone boards Sharks playmaking center Joe Thornton, thus denying a clean entry. Finally, with Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic eyeing a backdoor set-up, his Penguins counterpart, Ben Lovejoy, expertly deflected the pass away from goalie Matt Murray's crease.
The Sharks went without a credited shot on the power play. The absence of a single shot leaves even the most dangerous of power plays with no chance to cut into a better opponent's lead.
And make no mistake, the Penguins are the better team.
“That was the difference in the game,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said.
He wasn't wrong. He just didn't take the assessment to its logical conclusion.
That was the difference in the Final.
When forward Eric Fehr restored the Penguins' two-goal cushion late in the third period, the team's victory was cinched. However, it was the Penguins' perfect kill late in the second when the Sharks were bloodthirsty for life that should be remembered a long time after the Cup parade that's coming soon to Pittsburgh.
Of course, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn't want anybody jumping to celebratory conclusions just yet. Though ahead, 3-1, in the best-of-seven Final, the Penguins have scored only three more goals than the Sharks.
The Final has been close. Still, only the Penguins are close to closing it out.
They are also closing in on a moment Pittsburghers have awaited since Bill Mazeroski batted the Pirates to a win in the 1960 World Series. The day of his historic Game 7 home run at Forbes Field (Oct. 13, 1960) marks the last time a Pittsburgh professional team won a world title in the Steel City.
Makes sense, then, that the next time would be a team trying to win a sterling silver chalice.
A key component of the NHL's famous 1967 expansion, the Penguins first belonged to a state senator and now are owned by their greatest player. They have been a franchise of multiple bankruptcies, many scoring titles and enough ups and downs to rival any of Kennywood's historic roller coasters.
Fittingly, they were written off before writing an unbelievable ending to this 49th season.
There is only one first left for the hockey club named after an opera house.
Which brings us to Thursday night — the 4,139th game for Pittsburgh's Penguins.
The Cup will be in the 'Burgh.
That is where it will spend the summer.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

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