This week AT&T SportsNet will continue airing a series of "Pittsburgh Penguins Classic" content. The includes re-airing the Penguins' final victory against the Minnesota North Stars in the 1991 Stanley Cup Final (Games 6) tonight.
To get you set for these games we've provided a quick preview/recap of the game. Obviously, the Penguins won each game. Having watched these games in full for the "first time" myself, I listed my biggest takeaways and surprises from the retro games. Some of these observations may jog your memory, and some may come into clarity for the first time - those moments that only hindsight can really bring into focus.
SETUP: After posting back-to-back wins in Games 4 and 5, the Penguins were one victory away from claiming their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. However, it would be no easy task. The Minnesota North Stars had the best home record in the playoffs, and would not go quietly. But Pittsburgh's victory at the Met Center in Game 4 gave the team the belief that they could get it done.
SUMMARY: The Penguins' formidable offense scored early, late and all in between. In the biggest route for a Cup title win in over 70 years, Pittsburgh cruised to an 8-0 victory en route to hoisting hockey's holiest grail. Mario Lemieux, who was named playoff MVP, posted a goal and four points in the contest while goaltender Tom Barrasso turned aside all 39 shots against.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
*Goaltender Tom Barrasso started in goal for Pittsburgh even though he missed the final two periods of Game 5 with a groin injury. He said before the game that he could have finished Game 5, but the team decided to be precautious.
*Just nine seconds into the game, Barrasso is tested with a glove save and after Neal Broten crashes into the Pittsburgh netminder's leg. Broten goes to the box. Minute later Jimmy Johnson punched Paul Coffey, still not healed from a broken jaw, in the face. It was clear, Minnesota's strategy was to beat the Penguins literally.
*Penguins get a break during an early power play. Jaromir Jagr knocked the net off the moorings as Minnesota was about to exit the zone for a rush. Instead there was a faceoff in the Minnesota zone. And…
*GOAL! SAMUELSSON! NOT A TYPO! With the power play about to expire, the Penguins used a more defensive alignment on the play. Bryan Trottier won the faceoff. D to D and Samuelsson sneaked a shot through goalie Jon Casey.
*Broten got his lick in on Barrasso, but the Penguins get the last laugh with the power-play goal and a 1-0 lead two minutes into the game.
*Precarious moment for the Penguins. They get back-to-back penalties and stare at 1:26 worth of a 5-on-3. It wouldn't last long. Mario Lemieux shows why he was the team's best penalty killer. He perfectly reads a pass play and uses his long reach to knock the puck away to deny Mike Modano of a one-timer at the point. Lemieux then started up ice for a would-be breakaway, but was hauled down by Modano, who is called for a penalty. On the ensuing 4-on-3, Lemieux again steals a pass by Broten and easily clears the zone. Lemieux got it done at both ends of the ice because…
*GOAL! LEMIEUX! An incredible clearing pass by Larry Murphy from his goal line. He banked the puck off the boards to spring Lemieux for a breakaway. Lemieux pulled Casey to the ground and easily embarrassed him. Casey must have had nightmares of 66 coming on breakaways for the rest of his career.
*GOAL! MULLEN! Just 55 seconds later the Penguins make it a 3-0 lead in the first period. It was an apparent broken play with the team on a brief (8 seconds) power play with Modano still in the box. All they needed was six seconds as Mullen was setup for a tap in by Kevin Stevens.
*Barrasso sprawls out his body to stop Broten on the doorstep during a Minnesota power play. Perhaps a turning point in the game. Pittsburgh had blown leads in previous games. Barrasso would have none of it on this evening.
*The Penguins broke Casey. Brian Hayward took over in goal to start the second period.
*It was very clear in this game that Pittsburgh was a superior team. The Penguins were always a step ahead, suffocating in the defensive zone and putting on a passing clinic. I'm surprised this series went six games. The North Stars just can't keep pace.
*GOAL! ERREY! Penguins lead extended to 4-0. Errey drove to the net and really Jagr shot the puck into the goal off of Errey's stick. But look at Errey's face after he scores this goal. Just pure joy. You've got to think that with that goal the Penguins just knew they were destined to win. Errey celebrated liked it was the Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal. And perhaps, in the team's mind it was. The entire bench exploded.
*GOAL! FRANCIS! It took a mere 73 seconds after Errey's goal for the Penguins to ice this contest with a Ron Francis' breakaway goal that made it 5-0. The Cup, unofficially, was coming to Pittsburgh. Mullen, who had an incredible game, stole the puck in the neutral zone. Both he and Francis read the play immediately. Francis headed up ice. Mullen found him. Francis went five-hole. Start planning the parade.
GOAL! MULLEN! With 1:16 remaining in the second period it's 6-0. Mullen finished this game with two goals, three points. And the Penguins are just pouring it on. Mullen sneaked behind the North Stars' defense and received an outrageous pass from Stevens for a breakaway. High glove. No goalie can stop the Penguins. They're playing on a different level. Pittsburgh is playing chess while Minnesota is playing Hungry Hungry Hippos.
*Opening seconds of the third period. Mullen AND Francis dive head first to block a Gaetan Duchesne point shot. It's 6-0 guys. And they're still laying it on the line. That's when you can sense that a team can sense a championship is within grasp.
*GOAL! PAEK! Eighty-nine seconds into the third period and Pittsburgh just can't be stopped. Pittsburgh got a 2-on-1. Lemieux, doing what he does, draws the defender to him and then slipped a perfect pass to Paek all alone. Paek pulled the puck around Hayward's pad and dished it into the net. What a celly. The rookie living his best life.
*The Penguins already broke Casey. Now they broke Hayward. He got pulled and Casey went back into the net to finish the game. Minnesota has no answer for Pittsburgh's attack.
*This has to be the longest period in Penguins' history. I know Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Final was intense and nerve-wracking. And for me it felt like an eternity. But is it worse when you KNOW you're going to win and still have to wait for that clock to tick down? Add to that the fact that this is the FIRST championship for a team that was a laughingstock of the league for 24 years. I wasn't old enough to remember '91, but I bet it's arguable.
My uncle Kevin (die-hard Penguins fan his entire life) confirmed it for me: "Good question. 91 had all those goals and seemed like we would never get to the end. '09 prob more of a nail biter, edge-of-your-seat type of game. Not really sure which felt longer though. Both prob felt pretty long in their own way. If that makes any sense."
Indeed, it makes perfect sense.
*The Penguins played their smartest period of hockey in this third. No risky plays (shocking). Collapsing the net in the defensive zone. They chipped pucks out of the defensive zone and dumped into the offensive zone. They even retreated their attack on occasion just to eat the clock.
*Minnesota officially tapped out with nine minutes left in the game. The PA announcer thanked the fans for a great season and they gave the Stars a standing ovation. Kind of an odd moment with that much time remaining on the clock. But trailing by a touchdown, I guess every knew the inevitability.
*GOAL! MURPHY! It's 8-0. Another absurd pass by Mario. Goes with the blind, sensory perception backhand to Murphy in the slot. His backhander goes top corner.
*Minnesota kept coming in the final minutes. Barrasso had to make three, four big tough stops. He wanted that shutout something fierce.
*The Penguins cellar to summit. "The Stanley Cup has come to the city of Pittsburgh. The 1991 Stanley Cup championship, the Pittsburgh Penguins."