Sidney Crosby and the offense were unable to score, the offseason acquisitions such as Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino had yet to click and coach Mike Johnston was sacked. But six months to the day after Mike Sullivan was appointed the coach, the Penguins have emerged as champions again.
Led by Crosby's dominant play, the Penguins won their second title of the Crosby era this year.
''I have a greater appreciation this time around,'' Crosby said. ''At a young age, going back-to-back like we did, you just think it's going to be an annual thing. With the core we have, you think everyone's going to stay together, the team's not going to change. But it does. That's kind of the reality of playing hockey.''
General manager Jim Rutherford acquired the entire ''HBK line'' of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel in the last one year. Matt Murray stepped in as goalie after starter Marc-Andre Fleury got injured and rookies such as Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust delivered clutch playoff performances.
Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang also played an important role in the Penguins revival.
But Crosby deserves maximum for setting up Letang's game-winner midway through the second period and Patric Hornqvist's empty-netter that sealed the 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night, allowing Pittsburgh to clinch its fourth title.
Crosby did not score a goal in the final but controlled the play with his committed defense and strong performance in the faceoff circle. ''It places him up there with the greats of the game of all-time,'' Sullivan said. ''He's that good in my mind. I've said all along here through the course of the playoffs, he's deserving of the Conn Smythe. His numbers don't indicate the impact he had on helping this team win, or the impact he had on a game-to-game basis. He was a great leader for our team.''