SAN JOSE -- Perhaps it was fitting the Stanley-Cup winning goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins was scored by defenseman Kris Letang.
Letang had spent the majority of the postseason stopping the opposition's top scorers, taking a physical beating and logging heavy minutes in the process.
So when the Penguins needed to stop the San Jose Sharks' momentum in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday at SAP Center, Letang was there to deliver. His goal at 7:46 of the second period gave the Penguins the lead for good in a 3-1 victory.
Just 1:19 after San Jose forward Logan Couture electrified the home crowd by tying the game 1-1, Letang took a pass from behind the net by Sidney Crosby and one-timed the puck from the lower right circle off the blocker of San Jose goalie Martin Jones and into the net. The goal was all the Penguins would need to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2009.
"I was playing against Joe Thornton, a really tough guy to defend, probably one of the best players I've played in my career," Letang said. "I was just trying to play defense. And whenever I could bring some offense, I was just trying to do so."
Letang finished the postseason with three goals and 12 assists in 23 games. In the Final, he had a goal and four assists, three of which came on the winning goals in Games 1, 2 and 4. He is the fourth player in NHL history to factor in all four of his team's game-winning goals, joining Milt Schmidt of the Boston Bruins (1941), Jean Beliveau of the Montreal Canadiens (1965) and Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers (1987), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"It was unbelievable the way we answered back," fellow defenseman Ian Cole said. "After they scored that dribbler that snuck through [goalie Matt Murray] five-hole, the way we answered back was something amazing."
That could describe Letang's performance during the entire postseason. He averaged 28:52 per game, taking on top forwards such as Rick Nash of the New York Rangers, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Thornton, all the while getting hit by opposition forecheckers every time they got the chance. He was drilled by Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but returned later in the period. Letang missed one game during the entire postseason; he was suspended for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round for a hit on Washington forward Marcus Johansson.
"He's was our No. 1 defenseman, that's why he's here," Cole said. "He showed it all through the postseason, took his huge amount of minutes and ran with them.
"I don't think you can say enough about how he stepped up for us in the postseason."
Letang was taking it slow after the game, skating carefully around the rink during the postgame celebration while holding his young son. It's a scene no one on the Penguins could have imagined when they were 15-14-3 after a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 19.
"We had a slow start, made a couple of changes and everything came together," said Letang, one of six players from the 2009 championship team to hoist the Cup on Sunday, joining Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Ben Lovejoy, Pascal Dupuis and Marc-Andre Fleury. "We bought into the system and were successful."
Letang was a big reason for that success.
"He was our anchor," defenseman Justin Schultz said.