The Conn Smythe is awarded to the playoff MVP, but who was the MVP for the five Stanley Cup clinching games in Penguins history?
The Conn Smythe Trophy is awarded annually to the player deemed to be the most valuable player of that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but that player is not necessarily always the one who rises to the occasion and closes the deal for his team.
Hockey history is filled with unlikely heroes who answered the call and came through with a crucial play in a crucial moment to help push the team over the final hurdle to winning the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins are no exception and this piece will explore the unsung heroes who came through when the team needed them most.
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As a franchise, the Penguins have won five Stanley Cup championships and three players have been awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for their playoff efforts. Mario won twice (1991, 1992), Sidney Crosby has two Conn Smythes to his name (2016, 2017), and Evgeni Malkin won the award once (2009).
There is no question those players earned the Conn Smythe trophies awarded to them, but perhaps they were not the player who played the biggest role in the games where their team clinched the Stanley Cup.
From Max Talbot to Kris Letang, let’s take a look at who played franchise hero the five different times the Penguins sealed a Stanley Cup championship.
1991: Game 6 vs. Minnesota North Stars
Clinching Game MVP: Mario Lemieux
So, this selection is somewhat contrary to the entire point of the article, but when you look back at Game 6 against the North Stars, Lemieux stands out as the top performer on a night where just about everyone in black and gold produced.
Totaling four points (1G, 3A), Lemieux led an offensive assault that resulted in an 8-0 rout of the North Stars to give the Penguins the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. After Ulf Samuelsson opened the scoring, Lemieux made it 2-0 a few minutes later with a back breaking shorthanded goal. Mario added an assist on the team’s fourth goal in the second period along with a pair of helpers in the third on his way to the Conn Smythe Trophy.
1992: Game 4 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Clinching Game MVP: Ron Francis
Mario Lemieux, Rick Tocchet, and Kevin Stevens all posted three point efforts when the Penguins swept the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, but instead of debating between that trio, the choice here is game winning goal scorer Ron Francis.
Francis had an otherwise quiet Game 4, but his goal at 7:59 of the third period helped the Penguins build a two goal lead for the first time all night in what had been a back-and-forth contest up to that point. Jeremy Roenick scored late in the third period for the Blackhawks, but it was no enough and Francis’ marker held up at the Cup winning goal.
2009: Game 7 vs. Detroit Red Wings
Clinching Game MVP: Max Talbot
Before puck drop of Game 7 against the Red Wings in 2009, a popular pick to play hero for the Penguins was Ruslan Fedotenko. Five years earlier, Fedotenko scored twice in Game 7 as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Flames.
This time, however, it was someone perhaps even more unlikely than Fedotenko to play MVP and push the Penguins to a third Stanley Cup title. Max Talbot was already a folk hero for his actions against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of those very same playoffs, then etched his name in Penguins lore forever with two goals against the Red Wings in Game 7. Without Sidney Crosby at their disposal, somebody had to step up if the Penguins were to slay the giant. Max Talbot did just that.
2016: Game 6 vs. San Jose Sharks
Clinching Game MVP: Kris Letang
Kris Letang is a lightning rod amongst the Penguins fan base, but no one can doubt his performance during the 2016 Stanley Cup run. During the Penguins Cup run that season, Letang posted 15 points and led the team in ice time with over a whopping 28 minutes per game.
It was only fitting that Letang was the one to score the eventual game winner in Game 6 against the Sharks to give the franchise its fourth Stanley Cup. What is even more impressive is the play leading up to the goal, where Letang dangled around the Sharks defense before scoring short side off a pass from Crosby.
2017: Game 6 vs. Nashville Predators
Clinching Game MVP: Matt Murray
Many may look at this pick and wonder how it was not game winning goal scorer Patric Hornqvist and truthfully this was not an easy decision to make. After rewatching the highlights from that game, Hornqvist never has the chance to play hero if not for Matt Murray standing on his head for over 58 minutes before Hornqvist broke the ice.
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Game 6 was the most evenly contested game of the three played in Nashville during this series, but even so, Murray bailed out the Penguins on many occasions throughout the night to keep the game scoreless. Murray’s stand includes killing off a 5-on-3 in the third period that easily could have changed the outcome of that game and series had he not kept the Predators at bay.