Game six’s opening face-off acted as a foreshadowing device for the rest of the contest. After the puck was dropped, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby slashed San Jose Sharks assistant captain (and former captain) Joe Thornton in the back of the right leg. The two exchanged stick jabs for a brief moment, but kept on playing.
It was an example of an underlying nastiness that has existed throughout this year’s Stanley Cup Final between two unlikely combatants based on their early season struggles. With San Jose in a must-win situation (again) in front of their hometown fans in the SAP Center, the unpleasantness continued between two teams fighting to own the title of the NHL’s best.
The first period of Game six emulated a similar pace to the start of Game five; tons of back-and-forth action with a barrage of scoring opportunities at both ends of the ice. It was perhaps the best set of 20 minutes in the entire series. Unlike Game five, which saw four goals in the opening 5:06 of the first period, the game was scoreless early on due in large part to the efforts of goaltenders Matt Murray and Martin Jones. The five-on-five battle allowed the Penguins and Sharks to implement their respective styles of play at full force.
That is, until Sharks forward Dainius Zubrus took down Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin. He was sent to the penalty box for tripping at 7:50, giving Pittsburgh their 12th chance on the man-advantage of the series (PIT was 2/11 coming into Game 6). Evgeni Malkin had scored the only power-play goals for the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, both in the previous two games.
The man who drew the infraction, Dumoulin, stayed on the ice for the opening shift of the ensuing power-play. After an offensive zone entry, Justin Schultz threw the puck across to Dumoulin just inside the blue line at the top of the left point.
The 24-year-old blueliner then faked a slap shot, which made Melker Karlsson commit, then unloaded a blast through the right arm of Jones, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead 8:16 into the game. Karlsson would later crash awkwardly into the boards behind the Penguins net, causing him to miss several of his next shifts. He returned before the period ended.
After twenty minutes, the Penguins held their lead, leading in the shot category 9-4.
The home team came out of the locker room with more jump in their step in the second period, hemming the Penguins in their own zone repeatedly and forcing them to turn the puck over in neutral ice. Brent Burns knocked down an Ian Cole clearing attempt just outside the offensive zone and twisted a pass along to a streaking Logan Couture, who beat Murray through the wickets. It was Couture’s 10th goal of the postseason. The Sharks had tied the game at one with 13:33 left in the middle frame.
Pittsburgh was unfazed, as most championship teams are when facing adversity, and regained their lead 79 seconds later. Crosby circled around the Sharks net and centered a pass to Kris Letang, who was eagerly awaiting just above the goal line to the right of Jones. The puck somehow squirted through Jones again and the Penguins were on top. 2-1 Pittsburgh with 12:14 left in the second period.
Jones and Murray combatted more and more that was thrown at them and the score remained the same at the end of forty minutes. Chris Kunitz could have extended his team’s lead to two, but instead passed off a gaping, open-net opportunity on a 2-on-1.
The Penguins were one period from hockey glory, but San Jose had time to even up the score.
The Sharks did everything they could in the final twenty minutes, throwing pucks on net from every angle humanly possible, but 22-year-old Murray and the Penguins would not falter. Joe Pavelski forced a pass after receiving the puck right in front of Murray and Burns had shots blocked by sprawling Penguins continuously.
Patric Hornqvist sealed the deal with an empty-netter with 1:02 left in the third period. 3-1 Pittsburgh.
The final seconds ticked off the clock as the Penguins embraced their netminder, throwing helmets and gloves thrown into the air like graduation caps. It’s their first Stanley Cup since 2009 and their fourth title in franchise history.
Captain Sidney Crosby received his first Conn Smythe Trophy and passed the Cup to injured defenseman Trevor Daley (broken ankle). Pascal Dupuis, who revealed that he had to retire from hockey mid-season, was in full gear along with Daley. Phil Kessel, who has been met with an enormous amount of criticism during his career, will now have his name on hockey’s greatest prize. Mike Sullivan, like Dan Bylsma in 2009, wins a Stanley Cup in his first season with Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2015-2016 Stanley Cup Champions.