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NHL Centennial

'The Save' remains huge part of Penguins lore 26 years later

Goaltender Frank Pietrangelo's amazing stop against Peter Stastny of Devils in 1991 playoffs has stood test of time in Pittsburgh

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Frank Pietrangelo hasn't kept a lot of memorabilia from his NHL career, one that saw the goaltender play 141 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers between 1987-94.

But he did keep a very special glove, a Heaton-model trapper that to a large degree helped propel the Penguins to the 1991 Stanley Cup championship, their first of four to date.

The Penguins were kept alive in 1991 by Pietrangelo's impossible glove save on New Jersey Devils center Peter Stastny in Game 6 of the Patrick Division semifinals.

In Pittsburgh, 26 years later, it is still referred to as "The Save," long ago made a proper noun in this city, celebrated on a giant mural, with team icons Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby, in a concourse of PPG Paints Arena. 

 

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"It's followed me everywhere," Pietrangelo said of The Save, grinning as he spoke about it Wednesday before the Penguins took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators, with Game 3 set for Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). "It has been a definition of my hockey career, I guess. It's something that, at the time, didn't seem very important. But as time went on, it grew and grew to take on a life of its own. People in Pittsburgh gave it the name 'The Save.'

"Sometimes, I tell someone to just go Google 'The Save' and they'll say, 'With your name?' and I say, 'No, just 'The Save,' and it's kind of funny what comes up."

What the curious will find is a video of a truly stunning save, one often referred to as the greatest in Penguins history.

It was Game 6 at New Jersey, the Penguins clinging to life, down 3-2 in the best-of-7 series, leading the game 2-1 late in the first period.

Pietrangelo was playing the first Stanley Cup Playoff game of his career, filling in for the injured Tom Barrasso. Also sidelined with injury was future Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.

With the Penguins shorthanded, thanks to Pietrangelo having taken a delay of game penalty, the Devils rushed Pittsburgh's net, a shot bouncing off the goalie who fell and was almost hopelessly left out of position. The charging Stastny snapped the rebound at a yawning Penguins goal, only to see it swallowed up by the glove of Pietrangelo, who flailed desperately and fanned open his trapper as he dove.

Video: Memories: Pietrangelo makes 'The Save'

The Penguins won 4-3, then returned home to win Game 7, eliminating the Devils with a 4-0 shutout. No one talks about Pietrangelo's airtight game to close out the series, but The Save remains magical in the hearts of Penguins supporters and the franchise itself. 

Indeed, a half-hour before faceoff Wednesday, a scoreboard video replayed the remarkable stop for the umpteenth time, to the delight of fans who never tire of seeing it.

In the replay, teammates skate by Pietrangelo, tapping his pads and patting his helmet, offering a few words.

"Guys were a little bit in disbelief," he recalled. "Maybe it gave us as a team a little confidence that we could still win the game. The chips were down. Barrasso was out, Coffey wasn't dressed for the game and we're on the road in Game 6. All of a sudden, this was an opportunity for us to build on and that's what happened in that game.

"For me, it was a no-lose situation -- just go in and have fun and play, do the best I could and help the Penguins win. I had a great relationship with my players. I'd been here a long time, the team had drafted me [No. 67 in 1983] into the NHL. It was something where I went in loose and just played."

Barrasso would return for Game 3 of the division final and play all but 40 minutes the rest of the postseason, the Penguins defeating the Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and finally the Minnesota North Stars, all series going six games, to win the Stanley Cup.

"Have I ever made a better save?" Pietrangelo said of his miracle stop. "Certainly not one that was more important, that's for sure. Just the whole situation of a Game 6 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, my first postseason game, the injuries … 

"As far as being a great save, well, as goalies we make saves like this. We always say the forwards are dumb," he said, laughing. "Just put any part of your body out in front of the net and something will hit it. Sure enough, Peter put it right in my glove. I never had the opportunity to thank him for it, but he's given me something to remember my hockey career by."

The robber and the man he pickpocketed have never spoken about The Save.

"I really don't know how impactful it was for the Devils," Pietrangelo said. "For the Penguins, it's a big moment strictly because we go on to win the Stanley Cup, our first, when all the chips were stacked against us. What does it mean to the Devils or their history or Peter Stastny? I don't think it's as significant."

Pietrangelo, 52, is still deeply involved in hockey, the owner, general manager and coach of Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League. He'll come to Pittsburgh for a half-dozen or more Penguins games each season, and is still adored by the fans for his embrace of his team and for one almost mythical stop.

"We were a young team," he said. "I don't think anybody at the time expected us to win a Stanley Cup. We didn't expect to win. Did we want to win it? Was it our goal, our focus, our dream? Of course it was. But things just happen. This is how heroes are created over the years, I guess. The Save is a great part of my life, no doubt about it.

"All I know is that I'm proud of the moment. I'm proud that it's part of Penguins history and part of us winning our first Stanley Cup. With Mario [Lemieux] still owning the hockey club here and a lot of the pieces still in place, it's fantastic to come back to Pittsburgh and see The Save on the scoreboard, to be part of it. But to be recognized as part of the success of the Penguins as a whole is the most important thing to me."

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