Ryan Malone, the one Penguins player with firsthand memories of the team’s two previous Stanley Cup appearances, scored twice and set up a third goal as Pittsburgh routed rival Philadelphia 6-0 on Sunday to win the Eastern Conference championship and a trip to the NHL finals.
The Penguins, dominating Game 5 from the start with Malone and Evgeni Malkin scoring in the first 10 minutes, will play the winner of the Detroit-Dallas series for the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings was to take a 3-2 series lead into Dallas for Game 6 of the Western Conference finals last night.
Marian Hossa had a goal and three assists and Sidney Crosby, the 20-year-old captain of a team that was the Eastern Conference’s worst only two seasons ago, added two assists. Jordan Staal, only 19, scored his third goal in two games and fourth of the series.
Pascal Dupuis, an Atlanta teammate of Hossa’s before the two were dealt to Pittsburgh at the trading deadline, also scored.
Pittsburgh, one of the youngest teams to play for a championship in any major pro sport, is returning to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1992, when Mario Lemieux — long before he bought the team — led them to their second title in as many seasons.
Malone was the only current Penguins player who was there, along for the ride as the 12-year-old son of then-Penguins scouting director and former player Greg Malone.
By the time Dupuis scored about 4 minutes into the third period, the Penguins were conjuring up memories of their first Cup run in 1991, when they beat Minnesota 8-0 in Game 6 of the finals to secure their first Stanley Cup.
For the overachieving Flyers, it was a disappointingly bad finish to an unexpectedly good season.
Last in the NHL overall standings last season, they made a series of productive offseason moves to rebuild in a hurry and not only made the playoffs, but upset third-seeded Washington and top-seeded Montreal before losing in the first all-Pennsylvania conference finals.
The Flyers fell behind in the series 3-0, just as Ottawa and the New York Rangers did in Pittsburgh’s previous two series — the Penguins needed only 14 games to reach the Cup finals.
They are 12-2 in the postseason and 8-0 in 47-year-old Mellon Arena, the NHL’s oldest arena but one that will host at least one more finals before the Penguins move into a new arena across the street in about two years.
The Flyers play in an old barn of a building, but the Penguins are a breathtakingly young team in which four key players — Staal (19), Crosby (20), Malkin (21) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (23) — are 23 or younger. In any other major pro sport, most or all would likely still be in college or the minors due to their age.
Fleury, like Crosby a former No. 1 draft pick, made 21 saves in yet another impressive performance and is 22-4-1 since late November.