The Penguins’ quest for their fifth Stanley Cup has one thing on its side that the Nashville Predators could not replicate even if they wanted to: historical symmetry.
If the Penguins win this year, it will not only be the 25th anniversary of the team’s 1991-92 Cup victory, but also 25 years since the team won its last back-to-back titles.
The 2016 squad already completed the first step of the mission for another back-to-back, following in the footsteps of the ’91 winners of Lord Stanley’s Cup.
They dispatched the San Jose Sharks in six games, just as the ’91 team did with the Minnesota North Stars.
The two squads took a slightly different path to their Game 6 victories, though. The ’91 Pens went into Game 5 tied 2-2 before scoring 14 goals in its next two games to clinch the team’s first Stanley Cup. The 2016 Pens took a 3-1 lead back to Pittsburgh before dropping Game 5 to San Jose and then securing the team’s fourth Cup with a 3-1 victory in Game 6.
The ’91 team arguably has more in common with the 2017 Pens than with last year’s champions.
There was a legitimate chance of the Penguins being sold during the ’91 Stanley Cup run: the Post-Gazette ran a story above the article celebrating the team’s Game 2 win with the headline, “Pens to stay even if sold.”
It says a lot about the financial state of the Penguins in the early 1990s that a team in the process of winning the sport’s most valuable prize was in danger of not only being sold, but leaving the Steel City altogether.
Likewise, rumors swirled in fall 2016 that Lemieux was planning to sell the Penguins, though there reportedly was no chance of the team vacating Pittsburgh. Ownership eventually decided not to sell, which pleased NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
On the ice, the ’91 Penguins were remarkably adept at scoring multiple goals in short bursts, scoring three goals in the first three minutes of Game 4, four goals in the first period of Game 5 and three goals in the first period of an 8-0 Game 6 blowout.
That should sound familiar to anyone who watched Games 1 and 2 against the Predators, where the Penguins scored three goals in the first period of Game 1 and broke Game 2 wide open with three quick third-period strikes, including rookie Jake Guentzel’s goal 10 seconds after the period’s opening face-off.
Those two games are eerily similar to the beginning of the Penguins’ ’92 championship series.
The Penguins were also up 2-0 at this point in their ’92 series against the Chicago Blackhawks, with a 5-4 and
3-1 win in Games 1 and 2, respectively. For those paying attention, the Penguins beat the Predators 5-3 in Game 1 and 4-1 in Game 2, only one goal off the ’92 games’ scores.
If the Penguins can sustain these historical parallels, we are in for a snoozer of a Game 3, as the ’92 Pens won 1-0 with the only scoring coming in the first period.
But if time really is a flat circle, Pens fans can look forward to an epic Game 4, as the ’92 team truly earned its Stanley Cup sweep by beating the Blackhawks 6-5.
If the cycle repeats, Nashville may have to ban anyone with a Pittsburgh ID from buying brooms.
Note: The Post-Gazette has no archived photos from the 1991-92 Penguins’ championship run because it occurred during the Pittsburgh newspaper strike of 1992.
— Joshua Axelrod