NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Standing by the side of the net, Patric Hornqvist bounced the puck off Pekka Rinne’s back and into the net following a missed point shot by Justin Schultz with 1 minute, 35 seconds remaining in the third period. That provided the winning goal, as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Nashville Predators 2-0 in a controversial Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The win secured Pittsburgh’s second straight championship. Thanks to one of the more bizarre Cup-clinching goals in recent league history, Pittsburgh took the series 4-2 and became the first team to win back-to-back titles in the salary-cap era.
Matt Murray earned the shutout with 27 saves, and Rinne made 27 saves for the Predators as the Cup Final went six games for the fifth time in six years.
How it happened: With neither team giving an inch and ice conditions likely not ideal, it seemed increasingly likely that this game would come down to a bizarre bounce. Pittsburgh definitely benefited from that in the closing minutes of regulation time, with Hornqvist feasting on a bouncing puck at the side of the net. Nashville challenged the play, claiming goaltender interference, but the goal was upheld following a video review.
Nashville had its chances to take control in the opening two periods, earning two power plays and dominating the faceoff dot by winning 26 of 37 draws for a 70 percent success rate. Nashville’s best chance might have come when P.K. Subban found Colton Sissons in the slot with 6:41 remaining in the third. Sissons’ snap shot beat Murray but bounced off the right post.
Murray earned his second straight shutout and was particularly sharp on a glove save off a Sissons partial breakaway midway through the second. The Penguins goaltender was particularly effective after penalties to Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley gave Nashville a two-man advantage for 32 seconds midway through the third.
Controversy: The Predators thought they had opened the scoring early in the second period, only to be foiled by a premature whistle. Filip Forsberg‘s shot from the wing just over a minute into the second period squeaked through Murray, giving Sissons a loose puck and a wide-open net. But referee Kevin Pollock, situated in the corner facing Murray and likely thinking the Penguins goalie had secured the puck, blew the whistle before Sissons’ one-handed diving effort poked the loose puck into the net.
The quick whistle didn’t earn the referees too many fans at Bridgestone Arena — particularly after Subban’s goal in Game 1 in Pittsburgh was overturned by a video review that concluded that Forsberg was offside by the slimmest of margins on the preceding zone entry.
Conn Smythe winner: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs after his team hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second straight season. That marked the third time that a player has won the Conn Smythe in back-to-back seasons. In 24 postseason games, Crosby led the league with 19 assists, and his 27 points were second behind that of teammate Malkin. The back-to-back Cup titles and playoff MVPs further pad one of the more astounding résumés in modern sports history. Crosby’s accolades include two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup title, a golden goal at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 2007 and 2014, the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer in 2014 and the Maurice Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal scorer in 2010 and 2017.
What’s next: The Penguins’ Cup-clinching victory officially draws the 2016-17 season to a close. It also gives the Penguins an opportunity to be the first three-time champions since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983.