Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist scored and Matt Murray made 18 saves as the Penguins beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6
Kris Letang dug deep into the San Jose Sharks zone, circled behind the net and after trying to find a white Pittsburgh Penguins jersey in front of goaltender Martin Jones, eventually circled wide. He was left untouched by the Sharks to the left of Jones.
It was a snapshot of the 2016 Stanley Cup finals: the Sharks, on their heels, simply had no answer for the Penguins.
Sidney Crosby fed Letang off a rebound and the Penguins took a 2-1 lead at 7:46 of the second period. Letangs goal proved to be the dagger and the Pittsburgh Penguins took the game 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup, four games to two. It is the Penguins fourth Stanley Cup.
Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. It was Crosbys all-around game rather than his offensive prowess that stood out throughout the finals.
If the opening of Game 5 was a study in wide-open play, with four goals in just over five minutes of puck drop, Game 6 was played largely in the neutral zone. Seven minutes in and the shots stood at just 2-1 for the Penguins. After Dainius Zubrus took a tripping penalty, Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin converted a delayed slapshot from the blueline just 26 seconds into the powerplay. Once again, as they had been for much too long throughout these Stanley Cup finals, the Sharks were chasing a lead.
Melker Karlsson went awkwardly into the boards behind the Pittsburgh net after an Olli Maatta check and appeared to injure his groin. He left the ice but, somewhat remarkably, returned soon afterwards.
After the first period, the story was the same as it had been nearly all series: the Sharks were unable to generate much in the way of genuine scoring opportunities and were stifled by Pittsburghs swarming defense.
You hate to recycle storylines but once again, goaltender Martin Jones was fantastic and kept the Sharks relevant through Game 6 and the entire series. He stopped 24 of 26 Penguins shots. After a number of impressive saves in the first period and early in the second, the Sharks responded with some of their best pressure through the series.
That pressure eventually led to San Joses first goal of the game as Pittsburghs vaunted HBK line had difficulty getting the puck out of their own zone and, after Brent Burns kept the play alive just outside of the blue line, Sharks center Logan Couture fired a wrist shot past Penguins goaltender Matt Murray at 6:27 of the second period.
In doing so, Couture became just the fifth player in the past two decades to hit 30 points through one NHL playoffs. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both in 2009, are two of the others.
But these Sharks only appeared in fits and spurts, and glimpses of them at top gear were fleeting. Blink and you missed the team that entered this series as a favourite to many.
Letangs goal came less than a minute and a half after Coutures goal. Patric Hornqvist scored an empty-net goal with 1:02 remaining in the third period.
Both Malkin, Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz and Sharks center Joe Pavelski missed wide open nets in the second period and the score stayed 2-1. On a two on one, Malkin and Kunitz passed the puck effortlessly back and forth, looking more like old-timers at a weekend morning beer league game, but neither took advantage of their respective open nets.
It was an otherwise composed game from the Penguins. This meant no penalties through the first two periods, not allowing the Sharks impressive power play an opportunity to set up. Their play at even strength this series was the difference: even as their legs were worn down after four rounds of post-season hockey, the Sharks were unable to keep up; their impressive display of quick puck movement meant the Sharks once impenetrable fore check was not to take hold either.
Even when the Sharks were awarded their first power play of the game, after a Conor Sheary hooking call, they were unable to generate a single shot. To finish the game, the Sharks went more than 15 minutes without a single shot and mustered only two shots in their final period of the season.
The post-mortem on the Sharks lacklustre finals will be swift, no doubt. But the dominance of the Penguins, not just through the finals but through the entire second half of the season, should not be overlooked. After firing Mike Johnston in December, the offensive prowess of the Penguins under new coach Mike Sullivan was nothing less than stunning.
Never adverse to criticism, the Penguins silenced their detractors effectively through one of the more one-sided Stanley Cup Finals in recent memory.