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Pens' Miraculous Comeback Against Blackhawks

by Brooks Bratten / Pittsburgh Penguins

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, will be reliving some of the key moments from the 1991-92 season and playoffs.

The unique shape of the Civic Arena roof led to the building’s nickname, the Igloo. The domed steel structure helped to funnel crowd noise, and reverberate it throughout the arena. Many say that the volume was never higher in the building’s history than it was with 13 seconds remaining in the third period of Game 1 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final.

“Sometimes when you’re on the ice, you can kind of block that stuff out because you’re so into the game,” said former forward Joe Mullen, who was in the stands on this night due to injury. “When you’re sitting there and you’re part of the crowd, you feel it a lot more.”

There was plenty to feel that night, as the building is said to have been shaking when Mario Lemieux put the Penguins up 5-4 in what many fans consider to be the greatest game in team history.

The evening didn’t have the makings of a classic from the start, however. The Penguins were down 3-0 and 4-1 by the time the middle of the second period had rolled around.

“I remember our slow start,” former assistant coach Pierre McGuire said. “Our fans were getting a little bit nervous.”

The Penguins hadn’t been in a situation like the one they faced that night in quite a while. The team had won seven straight games entering the Final against Chicago, and had no reason to believe they couldn’t keep their momentum going after sweeping Boston in the conference finals.

The Blackhawks got goal No. 4 off of a shot from Brent Sutter in the second period. It would be the final time Chicago would beat Tom Barrasso on the night.

Rick Tocchet cut the lead to 4-2 when he tipped a puck past Chicago goaltender Ed Belfour. Then, the Penguins captain did something that only few can do with regularity.

“I remember Mario scoring from behind the icing line and bouncing it off of Eddie Belfour’s derriere,” McGuire said. “I remember that clear as day. I remember Mario coming to the bench after he did that saying ‘OK we’re in a good spot,’ and he was really energized by it.”

Lemieux, after not being able to handle the puck cleanly coming down the slot, regained control deep in the zone. With his entire body below the goal line, including his stick, “Le Magnifique” banked the puck in off of Belfour’s leg pad to make it a one-goal game.

“I think Mario’s goal, when he scored from behind the icing line, I think that planted a seed of doubt in Eddie Belfour’s mind,” McGuire said. “It planted a seed of doubt in the Chicago Blackhawks’ mind, and I think it caused Mike Keenan, their coach at the time, to get a little bit nervous about Scotty Bowman.”

The goal certainly gave the Penguins reason to believe that things were starting to turn in the contest. The score remained 4-3 into the third period, until 18-year-old Jaromir Jagr put together one of the prettiest goals in Stanley Cup Final history.

“The stick-handling moves that Jaromir had, I think he stick-handled around three of our guys and all their guys twice,” former forward Bryan Trottier recalled.

Jagr deked around three Blackhawks on his way to the net, and beat Belfour on the backhand to even the score, 4-4, for the first time since the early moments of the game.

Late in the third period, Chicago took a penalty and the faceoff was to Belfour’s left with 17 ticks on the clock. Ron Francis won the draw cleanly back to defenseman Larry Murphy, who let off a shot from the point. No one picked up Lemieux, who was headed to the net mouth, and he pounced on the rebound. Belfour never had a chance.

“The shot from the point by Larry Murphy coming off (of Belfour), right to Mario, bang empty net; the hockey gods were smiling on us,” Trottier said. “You’ve got to make those kinds of breaks, but you need those things to happen for you.”

The win was crucial for the Penguins, as losing Game 1 at home had the potential to make it an entirely different series. Instead, the team continued to win, ultimately rattling off 11 in a row.

“That could’ve been a tough loss,” said former head coach Scotty Bowman. “The Hawks had come in with an 11-game winning streak, so we were two teams that were really hot. Winning that first game is crucial.”

The game continues to be regarded as one of the best in club history, and it was the type of game that only comes around once in a while. When it does, it’s guaranteed to go down as a classic.

“It’s good luck, we were very fortunate, but it’s also hard work and skill,” former goaltender Ken Wregget said. “The guys were able to put everything together, and lady luck came along for the ride.”

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