Monday, June 13, 2016

Weekend report: The best team wins

In the end, the better team won.

After the disappointment of dropping Game 5 at home on Thursday, the Penguins went into San Jose last night and took care of business with a 3-1 win. That wraps up the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the second of the Sidney Crosby era.

And while the Sharks have nothing to hang their heads over after a deep playoff run that rewrote many of the narratives about the franchise's ability to win the big one, the Penguins left little questions about whether their win was deserved. They dominated long stretches of the series, showing off their impressive team speed while containing the Sharks' biggest weapons. In the third period last night, with a one-goal lead and the title on the line, the Penguins held a desperate Sharks team to just two shots on goal.

Sidney Crosby took home the Conn Smythe, a solid choice even if Phil Kessel might have been a slightly better one. Trevor Daley got the honor of receiving the first Cup handoff, in recognition of his first career championship and his mother's cancer battle. And San Jose fans buried Gary Bettman under a loud chorus of boos, passing the annual test and cementing their status as tried and true hockey fans.

Hi haters. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

It was an uneven series, one that was criticized early for being boring before picking up speed as it went on. Despite the presence of some of the game's biggest offensive stars, the two teams combined to average just 4.5 goals a game, further evidence of the Dead Puck Era's ongoing existence that the league will no doubt continue to ignore. But the games were close, with all six coming down to the final minutes, and even when the ice seemed titled it never felt like the Sharks were out of it.

But the Penguins deserved it, and in the end they got it done. We'll spend the next few days talking about legacies, Crosby's in particular—his trophy case is now edging into some very exclusive territory. Attention will also turn to both teams' windows, and whether either can expect to be back here next year and beyond. And then, after a few days to catch our breath, it's full speed into the offseason, with the buyout period starting on Wednesday.

It's possible that the Penguins will have sobered up by then, but here's hoping the party is still going strong. The best team won, and earned it.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Martin Jones—The heroic losing goalie is one of the Cup final's most enduring tropes, so much so that they occasionally win the Conn Smythe. Jones didn't quite get to that level, but he was spectacular over the last two games with the Sharks facing elimination. That was especially true in Game 5, when he made 44 saves to almost single-handedly prolong the season.

He kept it up last night, including a ridiculous save off of Phil Kessel with five minutes left to keep the Sharks' hopes alive. His play was so strong that it apparently even caused some sort of mind wipe on a pair of Penguins forwards that we'll get to in a bit. His overall numbers weren't great, but fans tend to remember the most recent highlights, and Jones provided plenty of them.

In the end, it wasn't enough. But it was a strong run from a guy who went into the season facing questions about whether he was a full-time starter or simply a product of the Kings' system. He won't be hearing those again for a while.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

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