|Minnesota’s Neal Broten and Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 21, 1991 at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, USA. Pittsburgh beat Minnesota 5 – 3.
(Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ dynasty began, in essence, in 1984 when the franchise selected Mario Lemieux with the first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft. And that first pick came about because of the team’s futility.
The Penguins finished fourth in the five-team Patrick Division in 1981-82. They were last overall in 1982-83 and repeated that ignominious feat in 1983-84. But that last-place finish allowed the team to choose Mario Lemieux in the draft.
Even with the rookie in their line-up during 1984-85, Pittsburgh still was a distant also-ran, but they made the climb to respectability over the next several years: a 23-point improvement in 1985-86 and modest improvements over the next two seasons until they leapt to second place in the Patrick in 1988-89. But they fell back to a disappointing fifth place divisional finish in 1989-90.
|Pittsburgh’s Joe Mullen with a scoring chance against Minnesota’s Brian Hayward during Game 5 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final on May 23, 1991 at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Pittsburgh beat Minnesota
6- 4. (Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
And then, the pieces fell into place. Mark Recchi finished the regular season with 113 points; good for fourth overall. Kevin Stevens matched Recchi’s 40-goal season and collected 86 points on his way to being selected to the NHL’s Second All-Star Team. John Cullen was having a career season until he was dealt to the Hartford Whalers, along with Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski, on March 4, 1991. In return, the Penguins welcomed Ron Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson, all who contributed to the final stretch of the season. The veteran Bryan Trottier was added as a free agent prior to the season and added presence and contributed a winning attitude to the squad. And a rookie by the name of Jaromir Jagr contributed 27 goals and 57 points in his first NHL season. The Penguins completed the season in first place in their Patrick Division.
|Pittsburgh’s Bob Errey, Paul Coffey, Mario Lemieux and NHL President John A. Ziegler, Jr., after Game 6 of the 1991 Stanley Cup Final on May 25, 1991 at The Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, USA. Pittsburgh beat Minnesota 8-0.
(Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Ironically, the man who everyone felt would carry the team to the Promised Land suffered a back injury in a game against the New York Rangers on February 14, 1989, and the injury seriously curtailed his participation. Nevertheless, in the 26 regular season games in which he did play, “Super Mario” dominated, compiling 45 points, including 19 goals.
The Penguins faced the New Jersey Devils in the opening round of the playoffs, edging their opponents in seven games. They rolled over the Washington Capitals in five games and then defeated the Boston Bruins in six to earn the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference champions.
|1991 Stanley Cup ring belonging to Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Bob Johnson.|
The Stanley Cup final saw Pittsburgh face the Minnesota North Stars; the first time two teams from the NHL expansion of 1967 faced each other in the final.
The series opened at the Civic Center in Pittsburgh with the North Stars edging the home team 5-4. The Penguins rebounded with a 4-1 win in Game Two. In Game Three, played in Minnesota’s Met Centre, the North Stars gave their fans a 3-1 win, but again, Pittsburgh bounced back with a 5-3 victory in Game Four.
|Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jim Paek wore this jersey during the 1992 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.|
The Penguins returned home for Game Five and outscored the North Stars by a 6-4 count, and then they sealed the Stanley Cup with a dominant 8-0 win back in Minnesota in Game Six. It was the largest margin of defeat for a Stanley Cup-deciding game in NHL history.
In his first playoffs, Frank Pietrangelo set a team record with a shutout sequence that last 112:19, while his goaltending partner, Tom Barrasso, was equally strong in goal, especially during the final. Defenceman Larry Murphy had a superb final, with 10 points in six games, including 4 assists in Game Five. Kevin Stevens scored 17 goals through the four playoff series. But it was Mario Lemieux who led the way in the playoffs. His back so sore that a trainer had to tie his skates for him, Lemieux was on fire, leading all playoff scorers with 44 post-season points, including 5 goals, 7 assists and 12 points in five contests against the North Stars. Mario was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
The team endured turmoil in the off-season. Their likeable coach, ‘Badger’ Bob Johnson, had guided them to the Stanley Cup in 1991, but that summer, he was hospitalized with a brain aneurysm. He succumbed to brain cancer on November 26 as the season was underway. Scotty Bowman had been assigned as coach to start that season, the NHL’s 75th.
|Chicago’s Bryan Marchment attempts to block a slapshot by Pittsburgh’s Bryan Trottier during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on May 30, 1992 at the Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Pittsburgh beat Chicago 1 – 0. (Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)|
The 1991-92 season was explosive for Penguins’ scoring, but in spite of boasting seven players with 20 or more goals (Kevin Stevens with 54, Mario Lemieux with 44, Joey Mullen with 42, Mark Recchi (who was traded February 19, 1992 to the Philadelphia Flyers) with 33, Jaromir Jagr with 32 and both Ron Francis and Larry Murphy with 21), Pittsburgh finished a disappointing third in the Patrick Division.
Mario Lemieux won the scoring championship with 131 points, and teammate Kevin Stevens was second with 123. Stevens was named to the league’s First All-Star Team and both Lemieux and Mark Recchi were selected for the Second Team.
|Mario Lemieux celebrating with the Stanley Cup after Game 4 of the 1992 Stanley Cup Final on June 1, 1992 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Pittsburgh beat Chicago 6-5 in Game 4.
(Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Penguins met the Washington Capitals in the opening round, and outlasted them in a full seven-game series. They then advanced and defeated the New York Rangers in six. Pittsburgh clinched the Prince of Wales Trophy once again, sweeping the Boston Bruins, and earned a berth in the Stanley Cup final against the Clarence Campbell Bowl champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Pittsburgh had little difficulty with the Hawks, winning the Stanley Cup in four straight games. They edged Chicago 5-4 at home in Game One, took them 3-1 in Game Two, shut out the Hawks 1-0 in Game Three and then celebrated their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship with a 6-5 victory in Game Four.
Captain Mario Lemieux had 5 goals and 3 assists in the final, and was named the Conn Smythe winner for a second straight spring. He was the first since Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers to win back-to-back playoff most valuable player honours.
“You need your best players to play great and Mario did,” offered Bryan Trottier. “Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, Ronnie Francis – everybody did.”
Coffey, who anchored the Penguin defence and provided solid offence, recalled the dynasty years of the Penguins. “I had contract issues with Edmonton in 1987 and ended up holding out. I got traded to Pittsburgh (on November 24, 1987) and a week or two into my stay there, I thought to myself, ‘What the heck have I done? I just left the finest-running machine in the National Hockey League and went to a team that really had no identity other than Mario and didn’t really know where they were going. But we stuck together and played together.” He added, “That was one of the highlights of my career. Playing in that city and the people there and winning a Stanley Cup there was very special. And winning back-to-back Stanley Cups is very hard, and as you can see, it’s hard to repeat.”
Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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