Ladies and Gentlemen… welcome to the new era of Professional Sports in the United States of America. A time where buzzer beaters and game 7’s have become the norm. Curses broken, legacies made, and immortality reached. Ever since Super Bowl 51 and its comeback of epic proportions, social media has been blowing up about the fantastic championships we’ve seen in the past 365 days, and they haven’t been overreacting.
Greatest year in sports. 4 minutes of chills pic.twitter.com/pSmwBKTdkt
— Athletes Desire (@AthIetesDesire) February 9, 2017
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 6, 2017
Missing something hockey fans? You’re not crazy, the almighty Stanley Cup is missing from these (and many other) lists of great championships throughout the year. Of course, one may argue that the Stanley Cup Finals didn’t break a championship drought (NBA Finals) (World Series), have a buzzer beater that only can be dreamed about (NCAA Title), or even contain last second plays to clinch a game (CFB) (Super Bowl). But frankly this is disrespectful, even from a casual fan. And I’ll tell you why: The 2016 Stanley Cup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks is underrated as the exciting series it was and deserves to be in the conversation of the greatest year in sports.
A flow of the tides. 2 back-to-back first period goals by RW Bryan Rust (12:46) and Winger Conor Sheary (13:48) set the tone off the bat for the Pens making a statement, proving that they deserved the title of betting favorites for the Cup. Yet returning with a period of their own, the Sharks struck back in the second, (hint: remind you of a recent Super Bowl comeback?) center Tomas Hertl netted a power play goal 3 minutes and 2 seconds into the period and former Sharks captain Patrick Marleau scored the tying goal with 1:48 to go in the second period. Staring overtime against an explosive offensive team, the Pens struck the final blow. Penguins defenseman Kris Letang made a snipe pass past stickless Sharks player Brett Burns to Nick Bonino for the winning goal. An exciting beginning to an exciting series. Shot Count: PIT: 41 SJ:26
A defensive thriller that set the table for the entire series. A scoreless first period led most fans to question what kind of series this was really shaping out to be. However, a hasty mistake by Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon gave the Penguins a breakaway leading to a Phil Kessel tip-in, 1-0. Time running out in the 3rd, the Sharks tied it to send a crucial game to OT and boy was this shaping up to be a cage match… However intriguing OT was, it did not last long, only taking Pittsburgh 2 and a half minutes to score the winning goal and go up in the series 2-0. Bring out the brooms? Shot Count: PIT: 30 SJ: 22
A must win is often a poorly used term, technically every game should be a “must win” for an aspiring professional franchise. But for the Sharks, this game seemed like a must win understanding that only 4 times in the history of the National Hockey League had a team come back from a 3-0 deficit (had not been done in the Stanley Cup since 1942). So calling game 3 a must win for SJ wouldn’t be going out on a limb. Ben Lovejoy scored in the 1st period for the Pens off a deflection (5:29), responding 4 minutes later was Justin Braun assisted by Alternate Captain Joe Thorton tying the game at 1 apiece. Then, nearing the end of the second (19:07) Lovejoy returns again with a shot on net that deflects off of Patric Hornqvist’s stick and gives the Penguins a lead. And with almost no hope left, a double minor penalty may just have saved Game 3 for the Sharks. Nearing the end of the 4 minute power play, Joel Ward fired a slapshot prayer that tied the game up (8:48). Weary legs persevered through the second straight extended game in the series, this one much longer than the previous. Joonas Donskoi fired a high shot (12:48) that clinched Game 3 and some much needed relief for the San Jose Sharks. How’s that for some excitement Hockey America? Shot Count: PIT: 42 SJ: 26
It’s time for one team to take control. Beginning the game as they had begun the previous three, the Penguins scored first, a deflection goal scored by Ian Cole (7:36). Piling it on with a power play goal 5 minutes later, forward Evgeni Malkin tipped in a rebound to give Pitt the 2-0 lead. Sharks’ Melker Karlsson cut the lead to one with 12 minutes to go in the 3rd, yet it wasn’t enough as the Pens put the nail in the coffin with an Eric Fehr goal 10 minutes later to essentially end the game. Penguins push the Sharks to the brink 3-1. Shot Count: PIT: 20 SJ: 24
3-1 deficit. Comebacks are possible, not probable in the National Hockey League. Only 8.7% of teams in a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs had ever come back to win the series. But that’s why we watch, for the possibility of the rarity. Living on prayers the Sharks finally scored first in the series for the first time (Brent Burns 1:04), and then followed it up 2 minutes later with a Logan Couture deflection giving the Sharks a comfortable lead. But after a minute and a half had passed, the Penguins had already responded with an Evgeni Malkin power play goal. And yet ANOTHER goal 22 seconds later for the Pens. Back and forth offense to begin the game as 4 goals were scored in the first 5 minutes of the period. The Sharks closed out the period with another goal, and put away the Penguins with a 3rd period empty netter ending on a 4-2 note and getting them only behind by one game in the series. 3-2 Penguins. Shot Count: PIT: 46 SJ: 22
Could the Sharks force a game 7? Only time would tell. The Penguins scored first (scoring first in 5/6 games in the series) on a Brian Dumoulin power play goal, San Jose responded with help from a major scorer, Logan Couture, to tie the game 1-1 and leave America in suspense. In the 2nd, Kris Letang hit a ricochet goal setting up the Penguins to plan defensively to shut down the Sharks for the rest of the game. It worked and the Penguins went on to score an empty netter and win the game and achieve their 4th Stanley Cup in franchise history through some dramatic games. Shot Count: PIT: 27 SJ: 19 (Sidenote: The Pens led in shots on goal in 5/6 games, a possible factor of why they won the series)
So what do you, the loyal fans of GNGH believe? Is the Stanley Cup getting the credit it deserves? Is it overrated? Underrated? Let us know on social media or in the below comments!
Drew Bishop is the “Hockey America” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him on his email: firstname.lastname@example.org