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Road to the 2009 Stanley Cup - Revisited

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
This article originally appeared on on June 16, 2009.

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

REWIND: The Penguins pulled off the unthinkable in the final weekend of the regular season by climbing into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and earning home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pittsburgh’s opponent was destined to be intra-state rival Philadelphia.

The Penguins utilized their home-ice advantage by taking the first two games at Mellon Arena to build a 2-0 series lead. Pittsburgh easily defeated the Flyers in Game 1 with a 4-1 triumph. But Game 2 was much closer. Philadelphia held a 2-1 lead late in the third period. The Flyers Jeff Carter had a wide-open net to shoot a loose puck into but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made a spectacular toe save to keep it a one-goal game. Evgeni Malkin tied the contest moments later on a power play. Veteran forward Bill Guerin scored his second goal of the game in overtime on a 5-on-3 advantage to lift the Penguins to victory.

The Flyers got into the series with a 6-3 win in Game 3. Fleury stole the show in Game 4. The young netminder made 45 saves, including 18 in the third period, to preserve a one-goal lead. Pittsburgh added an empty-net tally for a 3-1 win. Philadelphia battled back in Game 5 with a 3-0 victory, setting up a crucial Game 6.

Philadelphia jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period and it appeared the series would need a seventh game. However, Maxime Talbot challenged tough guy Daniel Carcillo to a fight and the Penguins stole the momentum. Just 14 seconds after Talbot’s bout, Ruslan Fedotenko got Pittsburgh on the scoreboard with a goal. Pittsburgh added two more scores in the period to tie the game. Sergei Gonchar’s goal two minutes into the third period held up and the Penguins eliminated the Flyers, 5-3, with five unanswered tallies.

DEFINING MOMENT: Talbot’s fight with Carcillo will remain the most memorable moment from the series. The Penguins were coming off of a 3-0 shutout loss in Game 5 and trailed 3-0 in Game 6. Pittsburgh needed a massive shift in momentum and they got it when the much smaller Talbot went fist-for-fist with heavyweight Carcillo. Talbot skated to the penalty box with his finger over his lips in a “shush” gesture toward the Philadelphia crowd. The crowd would soon oblige and fell silent when the Penguins eventually won the game and eliminated the Flyers.
Watch Talbot's fight with Carcillo

MVP: Fleury was the difference maker in the opening-round series. His phenomenal toe save on Carter helped the Penguins build a 2-0 series lead. Fleury’s 45-save performance in Game 4 was one of the finest postseason games in his young career. And after Philadelphia jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Game 6, Fleury refocused and closed the Flyers out the rest of the game as the Penguins rallied for the victory.

UNSUNG HERO: Jordan Staal was given a very difficult assignment against the Flyers, shadowing Philadelphia sniper Jeff Carter. Carter tallied 46 goals during the regular season, the second most in the NHL. Staal held Carter to just one goal and one point during the six-game series.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

REWIND: The most hyped and anticipated semifinals matchup in NHL history featured a star studded showdown between the Penguins and historic rival Washington Capitals. With Sidney Crosby, Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, the series set up as a battle between the league’s top superstars and two best young teams.

The Capitals ran out to an early 2-0 series lead by winning the first two contests in D.C. The most memorable event in the opening set was the double hat tricks scored in Game 2. Both Crosby and Ovechkin scored three goals in a remarkable show of individual talent and skill by both players.

It was the Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin hat trick show in Game 2 of the conference semifinals.
The Penguins responded to the 2-0 series deficit. In the pivotal Game 3, the Penguins were trying to protect a 2-1 lead late in the third period when Washington scored to tie the game. Pittsburgh faced a deadly overtime and a possible 3-0 hole. But Kris Letang, whose playing status for the game was unknown until game time, scored the winning goal in OT to give the Penguins life. Pittsburgh won three straight games to take a 3-2 series advantage, but lost veteran defenseman and blue line leader Sergei Gonchar after he suffered a knee-to-knee collision with Ovechkin in Game 4. Malkin tallied the overtime winning goal in Game 5 for Pittsburgh to push Washington to the brink.

With their season on the line the Capitals won a hard fought Game 6 in Pittsburgh in overtime to force a decisive Game 7 contest in Washington. In a gutsy effort, Gonchar returned to the ice for Game 7. The Penguins exposed rookie netminder Semyon Varlamov and exploded for six goals to eliminate the Capitals in a 6-2 triumph.

The series lived up to the hype with Crosby and Ovechkin one upping each other throughout the series. It went the distance to a seventh game and featured three games decided in overtime. But in the end, Pittsburgh was the better team.

DEFINING MOMENT: As Game 3 advanced into overtime and with Pittsburgh already trailing 2-0 in the series, the Penguins knew a Washington goal would give the Capitals an almost insurmountable advantage in the series. But Letang’s overtime score saved the game, series, season and Stanley Cup for Pittsburgh.

MVP: Crosby stepped up his already unearthly play on the big stage. Crosby posted eight goals, five assists and 13 points in the seven-game series, including his first career postseason hat trick in Game 2. But Crosby was most impressive in the most critical game of the season to that point, Game 7. In the do-or-die contest, Crosby came through for his team by scoring two goals and adding an assist to eliminate the Capitals. Crosby capped his incredible series by scoring a breakaway goal in the third period to destroy the Capitals’ playoff hopes.

UNSUNG HERO(ES): Defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi drew the difficult task of defending against Ovechkin, one of the most explosive players in the NHL – not to mention one of the best three players in the game. While Ovechkin managed to put up some points, the defensive duo were able to limit his damage enough for the Penguins to take the series.
Watch Fleury's Save on Ovechkin in Game 3

Eastern Conference Final

REWIND: The Penguins met a resilient and battled tested Carolina Hurricanes team in the Eastern Conference Final. The Hurricanes had upset No. 6 New Jersey Devils and No. 1 Boston Bruins in the first two rounds.

The Penguins were able to jump out to a quick 2-0 series lead with two victories at Mellon Arena. Pittsburgh fought off a late Carolina surge to cling to a 3-2 victory in Game 1. Malkin took over for the Penguins in Game 2. The Russian native tallied his first career postseason hat trick and added an assist for a four-point night as Pittsburgh won 7-4. Malkin broke a 4-4 tie with his second and third goals of the game (see Defining Moment).

The Penguins traveled to Carolina for the next two games. Game 3 was tied at 1-1 late in the first period when Pittsburgh scored two goals in the final minute of the period from Crosby and Malkin to take a 3-1 advantage. Carolina cut into the lead in the third period but Fedotenko’s goal halfway through sealed the game and gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 series advantage. The Penguins swept the Hurricanes with a 4-1 triumph in Game 4 that sent Pittsburgh to its second straight Stanley Cup Final berth.

DEFINING MOMENT: In Game 2, Malkin scored a back-breaking goal that will be seen in highlight reels for years to come. Malkin won a faceoff foreward in the Carolina zone, recollected the puck, skated around the net and lifted a bad-angle backhand shot into the netting. The tally ensured a Penguins victory and was also his third goal of the game. Ironically, or not, the faceoff play was dubbed "That Geno."
Watch Malkin's backhand goal

MVP: Malkin was absolutely brilliant in the four-game sweep of Carolina. He posted five goals and three assists for eight points. Malkin recorded his first career postseason hat trick (added an assist for four points) in Game 2 to single-handedly lift Pittsburgh to victory.

UNSUNG HERO(ES): The Penguins had many players step up for the team in the four-game stretch. Role players like Miroslav Satan, Philippe Boucher, Talbot, Tyler Kennedy and Craig Adams all scored huge goals for the Penguins and the sweep was the result of a total team effort.

Stanley Cup Final

REWIND: The Penguins squared off with the Detroit Red Wings in a rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Final. The series had the added drama of the Marian Hossa affair. Hossa passed on a long-term contract from Pittsburgh to sign a one-year deal in Detroit because he felt they gave him the best chance to win a Cup.

Just like last season, the Penguins fell into a 2-0 hole after losing the first two games in Detroit. Both games were close, but the Red Wings were able to capitalize on some lucky bounces to pull out a pair of victories.

Evgeni Malkin in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final
However, unlike last season, Pittsburgh bounced right back with victories in Games 3 and 4 to even the series at 2-2. Gonchar buried a power-play goal in the third period of Game 3 to break a 2-2 tie. The Penguins trailed Game 4, 2-1, in the second period when the team’s offense broke out. Pittsburgh tallied three goals in a 5:37 span to earn a 4-2 victory. Staal started the rally with a series-changing shorthanded goal. Crosby and Kennedy followed up with scores and the Stanley Cup Final became a best-of-three scenario.

The Penguins dropped Game 5 in Detroit by a 5-0 score thanks to three power-play goals by the Red Wings. Pittsburgh faced the end of its championship dreams in Game 6 at Mellon Arena. But as the team had all season, the Penguins answered the challenge and rose to the occasion. Staal and Kennedy scored to build a 2-0 lead in the third period. Detroit cut into the lead with a goal, but Fleury bounced back from Game 5 with a brilliant performance. He made 25 saves, none bigger than stopping Dan Cleary on a breakaway with less than two minutes left in the game, to help the Penguins force a decisive winner-take-all Game 7 in Detroit "for all the marbles."

The Penguins were trying to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions in their building in a do-or-die bout. Pittsburgh suffocated Detroit’s offense and Talbot scored two second-period goals to build a 2-0 lead. The Red Wings fought back with a score late in the third period and kept pressuring until the bitter end. Fleury made one final spectacular save on legendary Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left in the game and the Penguins triumphed with a 2-1 victory.

Last year after watching the Red Wings celebrate their championship at Mellon Arena, the Penguins got sweet revenge on Detroit – and Hossa – by celebrating at Joe Louis Arena. Pittsburgh knocked out the Red Wings and hoisted hockey’s holiest hardware as the NHL’s 2009 Stanley Cup champions.

DEFINING MOMENT: The biggest moment in this series occurred with less than two minutes left in the third period of Game 6. The Penguins were fighting for their lives and clinging to a 2-1 lead when Cleary picked up the puck on a breakaway. Fleury made a split save on Cleary’s backhand shot and Pittsburgh held on for the win. 

MVP: One year after receiving criticism for his play in the Final, Malkin showed up in a big way this time around. He posted two goals and six assists for eight points in the Final. Malkin recorded three assists in Game 3 and one goal and an assist in Game 4, both Pittsburgh victories. He also set up Talbot’s first goal in the decisive Game 7 victory. Malkin was honored with the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP) for his postseason play, leading the NHL in scoring with 36 points (14G-22A).

UNSUNG HERO: Staal flew under the radar during the series, but had a major impact on the Penguins' victory. After the first three games, Staal was put in a defensive role against Henrik Zetterberg. Staal held the former Conn Smythe winner to just one goal and two assists. Staal also scored the biggest goal of the series – and his career – with the shorthanded tally in Game 4 that crushed the Red Wings. He buried a goal in Game 6 with the Penguins' backs against the wall and was a defensive stalwart the entire series.

(All photos provided by Getty Images)

Author: Sam Kasan

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