In 1992 the Penguins won their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups after sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks. To mark the 20th anniversary of that title run, pittsburghpenguins.com will be reliving some of the key moments from the 1991-92 season and playoffs.
From their inception in 1967, it took the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise 24 years to capture their first Stanley Cup. The 1992 club took care of that feat for the second time just one year later.
The Penguins were able to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, an accomplishment that has only happened once since, with the 1996-97 Red Wings going back-to-back, and is nearly impossible in today’s NHL landscape.
“It’s tough enough to win it in the first place and repeating is even tougher,” former defenseman Larry Murphy said. “Just look at the mathematical possibility of doing it twice. You’re hungry the first time and the challenge is trying to recreate that desperation a second time around. It’s easier said than done because you’ve got 29 other teams that are just chomping at the bit.”
It could have been easy for the team to use the multitude of distractions that season as an excuse if they wouldn’t have been successful. Instead, the adversity drove the group to be great once again.
Thirteen out of a possible 14 games were needed for the Penguins to advance past the second round of the playoffs that year, as they had to claw their way back from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington in Round 1, and then faced more misfortune as Mario Lemieux and Joe Mullen went down with injuries against the Rangers in the second round.
But despite missing two star players and leaders, the Penguins cruised through the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston, and finally swept Chicago on their way to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second time. And if the repeat wasn’t impressive enough, they won 11 straight in the process.
“I’ve never seen a team do what our team did in ’92,” former assistant coach Pierre McGuire said. “They won 11 games in a row, and they did it with a lot of injuries, they did it with a lot of intestinal fortitude, and they had to do it on the road a lot in tough buildings.”
“Our rivalry with Boston was starting to get really heated and it was fun to play,” former defenseman Peter Taglianetti said. “It was really a catapult to take us against Chicago. You saw Mario and (Jaromir) Jagr and those guys just say, ‘This is our time again.’ And it just really blossomed. It was just a lot of fun to see it all take place.”
The Penguins outscored their three opponents in those final 11 games by a combined total of 47-24. The win streak still stands as the most consecutive games won in the playoffs with the final victory culminating in a championship title.
“We came back (against the Capitals) and then got on a run the last 11 games,” former captain Mario Lemieux said, adding that the 11-game win streak was his favorite memory from that year. “Just the way we did it, the way we won the
Cup was pretty exciting.”
Every successful postseason team has to possess a solid mix of star power and character players in their lineup. The ’92 Penguins had nothing short of that collection.
“In terms of success and terms of winning, you have to have a complete team,” Murphy said. “You have the guys like Mario up front that’s putting up big numbers, but you had (minor league call-ups) coming in like Mike Needham and Jock Callander; they came in and filled a role that this team needed, like stepping up at critical points during a playoff run.”
For Needham, it was the checking forward’s first and only Cup, a memory that he’ll never forget.
“You always hear the clichés, ‘It’s a dream come true,’” Needham said. “Obviously that goes without saying. But still, even today, when those kids now lift the Cup, I have goose bumps. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of and something I’ll treasure forever.”
Winning the second Cup was perhaps much more special than the first, in large part due to the fact that the players were able to do it for their beloved late coach, “Badger” Bob Johnson, who passed away early in the season after leading Pittsburgh to its first-ever Cup the previous year.
“The second in Pittsburgh was really special because after what we had to go through the whole year, beginning with Badger and losing Mario in the playoffs and
stuff,” former forward Jiri Hrdina said. “It was really, really tough. We did it and we really enjoyed the celebrations after.”
Although 20 years have passed since that June night in Illinois, the memories are still fresh in the minds of all who were lucky enough to share in the experience.
“It feels like it was just yesterday we were in Chicago celebrating in the dungeons of the old Chicago Stadium,” Murphy said. “I remember it was humid and stinky and smelly and we’re downstairs where the locker room was, but I tell you, I wouldn’t change that for anything.”