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Pens make history with repeat title

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

History is not made in one game. History is not made in one day. History is not made in one year.

History is built on the accumulation of time. It is as elusive as it is magnificent.

The 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins, just like the 2016 version before them, has etched their names in history, both literally and figuratively, after winning their second straight Stanley Cup championship with a 2-0 victory in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday night.

Literally, the names of these embattled warriors will be carved into the metal surface of the Stanley Cup, onto the final blank spot of the bottom rung.

Figuratively, the legend of the Pens' accomplishments - back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, the first team to repeat as champions in the NHL in 19 years, the only team in the salary cap era to win consecutive Cups and winning three Cups in the past nine years - will outlive all of our lifetimes.

The Pens' achievements over the last two years will live forever. The names of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Matt Murray will be spoken in the same breath as Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso.

Crosby and Malkin have fulfilled their promise as franchise players, delivering multiple championships, and will finish their careers in Toronto's hallowed hall.

Crosby has solidified himself as the greatest player of his generation. He has led his team to three Stanley Cup titles, besting even his owner, Lemieux, as a player. Crosby was twice named the most valuable player in the playoffs and was the youngest captain to win the title at 21 years old in 2009. He already has a trophy shelf filled with Olympic gold medals, NHL scoring titles, NHL MVPs and goal-scoring titles.

Malkin may not have made the list of the NHL's Greatest 100 players, but do not doubt his legendary status. Malkin also has three Cup titles, which ties for the most-ever by a Russian-born player. Malkin was also the playoff MVP in 2009, while also collecting NHL scoring titles and MVPs of his own.

Over the past nine years the Pens have gone through multiple general managers, head coaches and an ever-changing cast of players. But the one staple has always been Crosby and Malkin. They are the legs of the beast.

It's unimaginable now that a year-and-a-half ago - January of 2016 - the Pens were in danger of missing the playoffs and a black cloud of underachievement and disappointment hovered over the collective head of Crosby and Malkin.

But the story of these Pittsburgh Penguins isn't about two players. It's about a team in every sense of the word. It is a story, written with blood and sweat, of overcoming in the face of adversity.

Last season their offense grinded to a crawl while their record and confidence slumped and forced a coaching change. Head coach Mike Sullivan pulled this team from the gutter and led them to the heights of Mount Olympus.

This year offered no less in the way of adversity, mostly in the form of injuries. The Pens suffered 286 man-games lost during the regular season, yet still finished with the second-best record in the NHL.

Pittsburgh has played the entire postseason without its top blueliner in Kris Letang. In fact, the Pens have been without Letang, one of the best players in the league at his position, since mid-February.

The Pens even started the postseason without their No. 1 goaltender when Murray suffered a lower-body injury during warmups before the opening game of the postseason.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the team's faithful franchise goaltender for the past decade-plus, rode in on his white horse to save the day and helped them defeat two of top four teams in the NHL in Columbus and Washington. The defensive corps, without its leader, banded together to fight, scrape, claw and gut out shift after shift after shift.

The Pens, who have played in 213 games over the past two years, staved off fatigue and the arduous grind. That grind has killed every other team that has tried to repeat as champions in the past two decades.

Sullivan, who is the first American-born coach to win two Stanley Cups, squeezed every ounce of juice out each and every man until the drip ran dry. It was enough. The Pens are one of only two franchises to pull off the repeat in the past 29 years - Pittsburgh (1991-92, 2016-17) and Detroit (1997-98).

With many of the same players returning for next season, it's hard not to think of the capital D. Dynasty.

After all, the pillars of Crosby and Malkin are still solid. Add in Kessel, a healthy and fully healed Letang, and a cast of young stars headlined by Murray, and this year's breakout stud rookie Jake Guentzel. And just as importantly, the man steering the ship will also return - Sullivan.

The future is bright in Pittsburgh. But the present is blinding.

This season the Pens celebrated their 50th year of existence in the National Hockey League, and ended the year by celebrating their fifth Stanley Cup championship in team history.

The details may be forgotten. But the emotion will forever remain. It will be ingrained deep in the soul of this generation.

You may not remember who scored the winning goal in Game 5 against Columbus in Round One (Bryan Rust). You might not remember how many saves Fleury made in Game 7 against Washington in the Second Round for a shutout (29). You may not remember Conor Sheary scoring in overtime of Game 2 against San Jose in 2016, or that Letang scored the Cup-winning goal in Game 6 against the Sharks.

But you'll remember where you were when you watched Crosby lift the Cup, not once, not twice, but thrice. You'll remember how you felt seeing years of turmoil - bankruptcy, threats of relocation, three consecutive seasons of finishing in last place - evaporate as the Pens returned to the mountaintop. After all the tears and frustrations over the years, you'll remember that the elation and ecstasy was worth the pain.

With each passing year those feelings will only grow stronger.

Soon, the ice will melt, the equipment will be packed away and the arena will be empty. As time passes by, all that will remain is history.

This Penguins group has left its mark on history.

The legacy of these Penguins was built over the past 14 years. In one night, it was immortalized.

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