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Greatest NHL Teams

1991-92 Penguins voted No. 2 Greatest NHL Team

Repeated as Stanley Cup champions, won NHL-record 11 straight playoff games

by Wayne Coffey / Special to NHL.com

One Chicago Blackhawks player after another tried to thwart him, three of them in all, each one left looking silly, as if skating on taffy. This was late in Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. When Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh's 20-year-old wunderkind, was finally done juking his way to the front of the net, he backhanded the puck past goaltender Ed Belfour, a goal that wasn't merely one of the most breathtaking individual plays in the annals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- Penguins captain Mario Lemieux called it the greatest goal he'd ever seen -- but perhaps the defining highlight in a postseason full of them for the 1991-92 Penguins.

 

Video: 1991-92 Penguins win second consecutive Stanley Cup

 

"When you win once, people wonder," forward Kevin Stevens told Sports Illustrated. "When you win twice, it's no fluke."

In successfully defending their Cup title, the Penguins perfected the art of peaking at the optimal time, showcasing a mountain of mental and physical resolve in the process. Indeed, in November 1991, weeks into the season, the Penguins were mourning the death of their beloved coach, Bob Johnson, who had guided them to their first Cup title six months earlier.

 

[1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins roster]

 

"We learned a lot from Bob -- we learned how to win," Lemieux said. "We're a very tough team to coach, a team that was known for offense, but he taught us how to play defense. He was the main reason we won the Stanley Cup.

"Nobody thought that we could win … but Bob made us believe that anything was possible."

 

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Scotty Bowman, who was Penguins director of player personnel, was named coach, and though he took over a team with Lemieux, widely regarded as the premier player in the NHL, the electrifying Jagr and such standouts as Stevens, defenseman Paul Coffey and forwards Ron Francis and Joe Mullen, nothing came easily. Lemieux led the League with 131 points (44 goals, 87 assists) but was plagued throughout the season by back pain. 

In the Patrick Division Semifinals, the Penguins trailed the best-of-7 series 3-1 against the Washington Capitals before prevailing in seven games, then fell behind the New York Rangers 2-1 in the division final, losing Lemieux for the series after he broke his hand on a slash by forward Adam Graves in Game 2.

The Penguins rallied to win the final three games against the Rangers before sweeping the Boston Bruins in the Wales Conference Final, taking a seven-game winning streak into the Stanley Cup Final.

"We stay on an even keel and do what it takes to win," Stevens said.

And then, before the crowd at Civic Arena in Pittsburgh had even settled in for Game 1 of the Final, the Penguins needed that even keel like never before. The Blackhawks scored 6:34 into the game and led 3-0 in the first period and 4-1 midway through the second.

Pittsburgh forward Rick Tocchet, a late-season acquisition from the Philadelphia Flyers, scored late in the second to make it 4-2. Lemieux made it 4-3 nearly one minute later on an impossibly angled shot from the goal line, and then Jagr went solo with his highlight-reel goal to tie it 4-4 with just under five minutes remaining in the third. Lemieux scored the game-winner, pumping in a rebound of a Larry Murphy slap shot on the power play with 13 seconds left in the third.

The Penguins got two more goals from Lemieux in Game 2 and won 3-1, then got a stellar effort from goaltender Tom Barrasso, who made 27 saves in a 1-0 win in Game 3.

After Game 4 was tied in the third period following a hat trick by Blackhawks forward Dirk Graham, Murphy and Francis each scored to help the Penguins win 6-5, their 11th straight victory -- the most consecutive wins by one team in a single postseason, a record Pittsburgh shares, coincidentally, with the 1991-92 Blackhawks, as well as the 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens.

Lemieux, to nobody's surprise, won his second straight Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after he had 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 15 games.

Somebody asked him if the Penguins qualified as a dynasty.

"That's a pretty strong word, when you talk about dynasty," Lemieux said. "We'll know next year at this time."

And then the Penguins commenced their second Stanley Cup championship celebration, full of joy and relief, delighting in replays of Jagr's epic goal and paying homage to Johnson, known throughout the hockey world as "Badger Bob."

"I thought of him every game in the playoffs," Murphy said. "It's not a situation where you say out loud, 'Let's win one for Bob.' But every guy on this team knows we are at the level we are because of Bob Johnson."

 

[MORE TO EXPLORE: All-Time Stanley Cup Winners | NHL 100 | READ: Greatest NHL Teams | WATCH: Greatest NHL Teams]

 

The Greatest NHL Teams were voted by fans during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as part of the NHL Centennial Celebration. Stanley Cup championship teams from 1918-2016 were eligible, and the top 10 were announced during the 2017 Final.

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