When you think of the Pittsburgh Penguins biggest game, there’s a lot of options that come up over the span of 52 years as a franchise. From ending the Detroit Red Wings reign of terror in 2009 to Jaromir Jagr basically saving the team from moving in the 1999 playoffs against the Devils, it’s been quite a ride. The slew of great choices lining the team’s five Stanley Cup wins made picking just one moment an almost impossible task.
Pittsburgh Penguins Biggest Game in Franchise History
Biggest game: Game 1, 1992 Stanley Cup Final
This game may be a surprise to a lot of Penguins fans but without the comeback by the Penguins in this game, there’s no guarantee the Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. In the 1992 Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh was matched up against the Chicago Blackhawks. This was the first Stanley Cup Final for the Blackhawks since 1973. Chicago was coming off back-to-back sweeps of the Red Wings and the Edmonton Oilers prior to the Stanley Cup Final. The Penguins, meanwhile, had two tough series against the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers. These went seven and six games respectively. The Penguins made up for the tough first two rounds, though, sweeping the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Blackhawks were fired up after dominating the playoffs thus far. They came out swinging in the first game of the series. On the other hand, Pittsburgh looked absolutely out of sorts as the game started. Chicago made them pay with 3 first period goals. The Hawks goals came courtesy of Chris Chelios, Michel Goulet, and Dirk Graham. The Goulet goal may have been the worst of them all. The Penguins gave up the puck in front of the net. Chicago recovered it and dished it over to Goulet, who one-timed it past Penguins goaltender Tom Barrasso. The Penguins replied with a Phil Bourque goal late in the first but Chicago still held all the tempo.
Brent Sutter added to the Hawks 3-1 lead roughly halfway through the second period. He was left all alone in front of Barrasso and didn’t miss the chance to put the game away. It was a sloppy play from Pittsburgh. Two players chased the puck, leaving Sutter wide open on the weak-side of the ice. Chicago had all the momentum after Sutter’s goal. They had silenced the Pittsburgh crowd, clearly out for blood now that they had finally returned to the Stanley Cup Final. With a three-goal lead, it seemed like Game One might emphatically fall to Chicago despite half the game still to play.
Yet, the star-studded Penguins had a different agenda. They rebounded the goal with fire in their stomachs. Pittsburgh took the game over as soon as the puck dropped to start play following the goal. Just a few minutes after Sutter’s goal, on a delayed penalty, Rick Tocchet deflected a Paul Stanton shot into the net to draw within 4-2. From that point on, it became the Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr show. Less than a minute after Tocchet deflected Stanton’s shot, Lemieux scored a goal that banked in off of Eddie Belfour to pull Pittsburgh within 4-3 going into the second intermission.
Another goal wasn’t recorded until late in the third period. With less than five minutes on the clock, Jagr skated the puck down the left-wing boards. He deked Sutter and Graham, cutting towards the goal. After splitting the defence, he backhanded the puck past Belfour. The goal tied the game at four. After being down three goals for most of the game, the Penguins had managed to climb back. Jagr celebrated the dramatic tying goal with his signature salute, seemingly signing off on one of the greatest goals in both his and the Penguins, history. Here’s a replay of the goal (skip to about 1:35):
The game remained close after Jagr’s goal. With things evened up, there seemed to be no stopping things from being drawn out in overtime. There was only one problem, though. Lemieux was having nothing to do with the overtime talks. With 15 seconds remaining in the third period, defenseman Larry Murphy ripped the puck towards the net. It was saved by Belfour but the rebound went straight to Lemieux. Belfour had no chance to stop the second-chance opportunity, as Lemieux buried the game-winning goal with a mere 12.6 seconds left on the clock. You can see the replay of that goal in the video above at about 2:01. The Hawks put on a late push in the final seconds but it wasn’t enough. The Penguins, led by their stars, had managed one of the greatest comebacks in recent history.
There was no coming back for the Blackhawks after this game. With the dramatic comeback, came a drop in morale among Chicago fans and players alike. If they had any shot of winning the title from the Penguins, they needed to win Game One. Hopes seemed high at the halfway point of the game, too, with the Hawks boasting all the momentum. Yet, the Penguins banded together and proved why they were the undeniable favorites.
Pittsburgh got their act together for the rest of the series. While they started Game One out very poorly, they rallied on to win each of the next three. The ending to Game One truly showed how dominant the Penguins could be, even in the face of such a deficit.
After Game One, the Blackhawks would go on to score just one goal in the next two games. This poor showing left them down 3-0 in the series heading into Game Four: another tight contest that saw the Penguins pull out with the 6-5 victory, and the Stanley Cup.
If the Blackhawks were able to maintain their lead in Game One, the entire series would’ve looked much different. The Hawks were being counted out by fans around the league. They made the playoffs in each of the 22 seasons prior to 1992’s post-season, yet only made it to the Stanley Cup Final once in that span (1973). The consistent disappointment left a terrible taste in the mouth of Chicago natives, who chose to completely ignore the Hawks once the 90s came around, favoring the NBA dynasty that was the Chicago Bulls instead. Being counted out by their entire city clearly lit a fuse in the Hawks, who came out strong to start Game One. Yet, a historical comeback quickly put out that spark. Game One meant so much more than any other game in franchise history. The dramatic heroics by Lemieux and Jagr all but guaranteed another Penguins Cup.