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Pens present Zatkoff with his Stanley Cup ring

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

LOS ANGELES, California - For most of his life he's been known as Jeff Zatkoff.

But following the Pens' 2016 Stanley Cup championship, he became known as something else. "Mr. Game One."

Zatkoff earned that nickname - self-given - after his superb effort in Game 1 of the Pens' First Round series against the NY Rangers. Zatkoff's effort in the contest led to a Pens' victory en route to a Stanley Cup championship, earning Zatkoff the honor of having his name etched onto the silver chalice and some new bling in the form of a championship ring.

The latter was presented to Zatkoff by the Pens coaching staff Thursday night before Pittsburgh faced the Los Angeles Kings - Zatkoff's current team - at Staples Center.

"It's exciting. I've been waiting a while for it, since the guys got it at the beginning of the year," Zatkoff said. "My wife and I have been watching on social media. I had (Eric Fehr) and everyone sending me pics. You can't see how nice it is until you see it in person. It's something I'll cherish forever. Not only the ring, but the memory that come with it. That's something that you can never take away."

For a refresher, the Pens began their quest for the 2016 Stanley Cup title in April against division rival NY Rangers - who also happen to be the team that eliminated Pittsburgh in the previous two springs.

Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had missed significant time toward the end of the season with a concussion, though he had rejoined the team for practice heading into the opening contest of the postseason.

Meanwhile, backup goaltender Matt Murray suffered an upper-body injury in the final regular-season game in Philadelphia and was ruled out for the start of the playoffs.

Murray had carried the team in Fleury's absence down the stretch. But with Fleury back at practice, most fans and media expected him to start in Game 1 against the Rangers.

Instead, it was Zatkoff, who hadn't started a game in nearly six weeks, that led the Pens onto the ice, and he also led them to a victory with a brilliant 35-save performance. Pittsburgh would go on to win its fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, but without Zatkoff's Game 1 performance, things may have ended differently.

"Nerves to start," Zatkoff said of his memory of that game. "They got a lot of shots early and I was able to make a few saves and settle in. As a goalie, if you get your confidence early, you're able to run with it. The guys played so hard for me and the situation I was in, getting thrown in there. I couldn't sleep for two nights after that. It all seems like a blur since that game."

But the Pens went on to defeat the San Jose Sharks in six games during the Stanley Cup Final, and following that Game 6 celebration in the locker room Zatkoff began his own chant of "Mr. Game One!"

"(The Kings) make comments about it (Mr. Game One)," Zatkoff admitted.

Zatkoff has spent his entire career with two organizations. He was originally drafted by the Kings in the third round (74th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft, though he never played an NHL for Los Angeles in his first stint.

Zatkoff signed with the Pens organization in 2012. He split time between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League and Pittsburgh, appearing in 35 NHL games over the course of four years for Pittsburgh.

Zatkoff re-signed with Los Angeles over the summer as an unrestricted free agent, but he'll never forget the time he spent in Pittsburgh. And his new ring is a reminder of his days as a Penguin.

"It brings back all the relationships you have, all the memories, and that run," Zatkoff said. "It seemed like everything clicked from late February on. It makes all the hard work, all the ups and downs, the roller coaster ride that is professional sports and professional hockey, worth it. That's why you play the game."

 

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