Long before Sidney Crosby made history the first time (and second and third) in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were putting Pittsburgh on the hockey map. Discover the road this winning team paved to make a mark on the map and the Stanley Cup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were founded in 1967 as one of the first expansion teams in the National Hockey League (NHL). The 1967 expansion doubled the size of the league and was the largest of its kind in major sports leagues. The addition of the Penguins and the other five teams began the Expansion Era of the NHL.
A Rough Start
Although they played well and made their mark early, the Pens faced adversity. The Penguins were the first expansion team to beat an Original Six team. On October 12, 1967, they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2. But their first two years kept them just short of the playoffs. They struggled, finding their way to a playoff berth only after drafting Michel Briere in the 1969 draft.
Briere took them to a four-game sweep of the Oakland Seals in the quarter finals in 1970 and led the team in playoff goals. They lost to the St. Louis Blues in the semi-finals, but Briere made news when he was the runner-up the league’s rookie of the year Calder Memorial Trophy. Tragically, Briere suffered brain trauma in a car crash just days later and fell into a coma, dying a year later.
Finishing last in the 1983-84 season, the Penguins won the right to first draft pick and drafted Mario Lemieux. On New Year’s Eve 1988, Lemieux made history scoring a goal in all five possible game situations: even strength, shorthanded, power play, penalty shot and empty net. Later that season, the Pens made it to the playoffs, sweeping the New York Rangers in the first round but losing out to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round.
Lemieux suffered a herniated disc that kept him out of the 1989-90 season, and the Penguins once again missed the playoffs. But during the 1990 draft, the Penguins drafted the first Czechoslovakian player who didn’t have to defect from his own country to play for the NHL — Jaromir Jagr. He quickly developed into the talent Lemieux and the Penguins needed to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Penguins Win the Stanley Cup
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins took the Minnesota North Stars to the final round, winning in game six with an 8-0 victory. This win marked the largest margin of victory in the Stanley Cup Finals in over 80 years. The Penguins were the first NHL team to go to the White House. They were personally congratulated by President George H. W. Bush on their championship. They then won their first back-to-back Stanley Cup Championship in 1992.
After the 2004-05 Season Lockout was resolved, Pittsburgh won the first draft pick for the 2005 draft. Their pick, Sidney Crosby, was the most highly regarded rookie since Lemieux. Four seasons later with Crosby at the helm, the Pens became the first 1967 expansion team to win the Stanley Cup three times.
Perseverance Continues to Pay Off
After season-ending injuries for numerous players over the next five years, the Penguins continued to show their penchant for overcoming adversity. In 2016, they tied with the New York Rangers and New York Islanders as a team with a fourth Stanley Cup Championship. They overcame more injuries in the 2016-17 season to win their second back-to-back and fifth overall Stanley Cup. The win pegged the Penguins as the first back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in nearly two decades.
The Penguins are currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the most Stanley Cup Championships among non-Original Six teams. Their continued perseverance for the Stanley Cup makes a mark of excellence on Pittsburgh’s map.