For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Doug Lidster to break down the action.
Lidster, 56, was an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-17. He won a Stanley Cup with the 1994 New York Rangers and one with the 1999 Dallas Stars during a 16-year NHL career before turning to coaching.
As it was announced that Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the second consecutive year, and as the Pittsburgh Penguins began skating around the ice, handing off the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, former NHL assistant Doug Lidster remarked on his approval of the choice. "That's a good pick," he said. "I think he should have been Conn Smythe winner even if Nashville ended up winning the Cup."
But the Nashville Predators hadn't won. Instead, the Penguins scored with less than two minutes left in the third period and added an empty-netter for a 2-0 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. They became the first back-to-back champions of the salary cap era.
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So how did they do it? How did they come to Nashville and win Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena, the first time in the series that a visiting team won a game?
"Their puck management was terrific, I thought, tonight," Lidster said. "That was a real key. They put the puck in deep, especially early. They turned the Nashville defense, created a lot of scoring opportunities from attacks below the goal line. And just as importantly, they kept it away from [goaltender Pekka] Rinne as much as they could."
Rinne, of course, wasn't the only goaltender Lidster had his eye on. After each goaltender had struggled in the opposing building earlier in the series, Penguins goalie Matt Murray came up with a stellar performance to shut out the Predators in the clinching game.
It was hard not to notice.
"He was the best player out there," Lidster said. "He brought that calm presence that he does when he's on top of his game. He was real solid, but it was a real complete victory. I thought the defense and the defending game, the whole team played a good, solid defending game. They never really got outnumbered. … They had numbers in front of the net, protected the house, and played about as well as you can probably expect to play in that building under those circumstances."
That includes on the penalty kill. The Penguins killed four penalties, including a 32-second 5-on-3 after defensemen Trevor Daley was called for roughing at 8:47 of the third period with 32 seconds remaining on Olli Maatta's tripping penalty. The score was 0-0 at that point, and the game and the series could have turned on those penalties. Instead, the Penguins emerged unscathed.
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"The penalty-killing was solid all night long," Lidster said. "They did a real good job getting in the shot lanes. As we mentioned at the beginning of the series, that would be a key for Pittsburgh to take away the shots from the Nashville point. [Game 6] just exemplified that. They did it at even strength, and they did it particularly well on the penalty kill."
One thing that the Penguins did not do well was win faceoffs. It was something that Lidster had thought might burn them, in Game 6 and throughout the series, noting that they were "playing with fire." The Penguins won 32 percent of their faceoffs in Game 6, going 18-for-57. But they still managed to win.
"Sometimes those things come back to bite you," Lidster said. "It just goes to show you how sometimes things just go your way when you have experienced players that know how to win."
That was what the Penguins had, allowing them to take the series and the Stanley Cup, even without defenseman Kris Letang for all of the postseason, even with using Marc-Andre Fleury and Murray in goal, after Murray was injured in warmups before Pittsburgh's playoff opener.
But they got what they needed, and they did what they needed.
"They got key contributions at the right time," Lidster said. "You look at their defense and it's an unheralded defense without Letang in there, and they were solid. They were solid and they contributed offensively on certain nights, but for the most part they just did their job in the defensive zone. They got the puck up to the Pittsburgh forwards, where the strength of the team is, and as a group they were terrific.
"There were points where they needed to have guys step up, and Game 5 they had six different goal scorers all the way to the line of defensemen, third- and fourth-line players. That's what championship teams are. They're a team. No one guy wins it. They have the best player in the world playing for them, but they have a very, very good supporting cast."
And now, just like last season, they will have their names on the Stanley Cup.