Ranking the 5 Most Surprising Seasons in Pittsburgh Penguins History
After looking at the title of this article, you probably could say the past five seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins have been the most surprising. Only one Eastern Conference Final appearance since 2009 is pretty shocking when you consider all the talent this club has acquired over the past few years.
Other than this streak of bad postseason luck, there are a few other times in the history of this club that stunned not only itself, but the entire league as well.
Listed here are the five most surprising seasons in the franchise’s history dating as far back as 1975. If there are any other shocking moments from the Pens' past I failed to mention, please voice them in the comments below.
Also for the sake of this article, there are three types of "seasons": regular, postseason and offseason.
5. 2014 Offseason
Surprise: Firing of Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero
This summer, many fans of the Pens were shocked to not only see head coach Dan Bylsma get fired, but also general manager Ray Shero, the man who physically made this team what it is today.
After taking over midway through the 2008-09 season, which saw the team win its third Stanley Cup, Bylsma was expected to be a part of this club for a long time. Despite this, rumors circulated that his presence became stale in the locker room by the end of last year's playoffs.
It’s true that many were calling for a change both on the ice and in the front office. However, it seemed at least Shero would have missed the chopping block.
While Shero wasn't the man who drafted Sidney Crosby, he put the necessary pieces around the budding superstar to bring home the league championship in 2009.
After five straight early-round postseason exits, the blame was shifted to Shero and Bylsma, which was something neither man could shy away from.
4. 1975 Postseason
Surprise: Penguins' early exit in 1975 postseason
Founded in 1967, the Penguins, along with some of the other expansion teams of the era, failed to get off to a hot start in the early days of their induction into the NHL.
However, in only a few years, the Pens started to gain a foothold in the league thanks to the talents of Syl Apps, Jean Pronovost and Lowell MacDonald, who were also known as the Century Line.
The Penguins took a quick three-game lead over the Islanders and were a just single game away from heading to the semis to take on the in-state rival Philadelphia Flyers.
Despite leading the series three to nothing, the Pens couldn’t find a way to close it out and would go on to lose four straight to the Islanders. This was only one of four times a team has come back from being down three games to none in the NHL. The complete list can be found in this link.
The Islanders would go on to lose in seven games to the Flyers, who eventually won the Stanley Cup.
It was truly a heartbreaking moment for the city of Pittsburgh.
3. 2009 Postseason
Surprise: Stanley Cup Rematch
The Detroit Red Wings met the Penguins at the conclusion of the 2007-08 season in a six-game series that saw the Wings hoist the Cup for the 11th time in their team's history.
The next season, both teams found their way back to the Final, but another outcome had unfolded. The Penguins were on the victorious side this year.
Before the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, there hasn’t been a rematch for the championship between two clubs since 1983 and 1984 when the Islanders and Edmonton Oilers battled for Lord Stanley.
This made for an interesting storyline in 2009. Many argued Crosby could put the past season’s shortcomings behind him and rise to the challenge of overcoming defeat. He did just that, which made many believe this was the NHL’s next dynasty.
While it hasn’t looked that way since, the fact that the team could overcome the obstacles of getting back up after being knocked down that year surprised many, especially in light of the midseason coaching change.
2. 2000-2001 Regular Season
Surprise: The Comeback
Mario Lemieux single-handedly saved the Pens from relocation after he took the initiative to become the majority owner in 1999. This made him the first player in NHL history to assume primary control of his former team.
Now that Lemieux was at the helm of the team’s operations, no one believed he would take the risk to return to the game he loved so dearly. However, in the latter half of 2000, there was talk of a possible return.
On December 27, Lemieux made a triumphant return in his first game back. That day he scored a goal and dished out two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs, proving that he had a lot left in the tank. He would go on to finish the 2000-01 regular season with 76 points after only playing in 43 games.
While the Steel City wasn’t Lemieux’s birthplace, it became his home from the day he was drafted in 1984 to well past his second retirement in 2006.
1. 1992 Postseason
Surprise: Penguins Repeat in 1992
In 1991, the Penguins rolled through the New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins and eventually the Minnesota North Stars en route to their first Stanley Cup in team history. This wasn’t too much of a surprise as they finished second in the Wales Conference and first in the Patrick Division that season.
The next year, the club didn’t do as hot in the regular season. It finished fourth in the conference and third in its division.
The first two rounds of the 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs were nail-biting for Penguins fans everywhere. The club squeaked out of its matchup with the Capitals after a tight, seven-game series. In Round 2 against the Rangers, two overtime games could have swung the series either way, but the Penguins were fortunate to come out on top.
The most shocking part of the playoffs comes next. The Penguins were able to sweep the next two series against the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Pens were the first team to repeat as champs since the Oilers did it in 1987 and 1988, which made people start to draw comparisons. It was a truly remarkable run that not even the hockey gods could have predicted.