Five key moments that contributed to Penguins Stanley Cup Final run –

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As the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks are getting ready to face off in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, we are taking a look at everything that helped them reach this point in the season.

We have already looked at how the two teamsmade it to the Stanley Cup Final when it comes to their play on the ice. Now we are going to take a quick look at some of the key moments that helped them get here. The moments in a particular game or playoff series that could have easily changed the outcome. The turning points, if you will.

Here, we take a look at five key moments that have contributed to the Penguins’ current playoff run.

They started before the playoffs even began.

1. The months of December and January. It’s not one specific moment, and it didn’t happen in the playoffs, but it was still a series of moments that made it possible for the team to even make it to the postseason. In the middle of December the Penguins were out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and were coming off a series of games that just looked … bad. At that point in the season there was little reason to believe they could even make the playoffs let alone go on a run to the Stanley Cup Final. It was then that they brought in Mike Sullivan to replace Mike Johnston behind the bench, and then over the next month completely overhauled the roster by trading for Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin and then calling up Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. That is a significant change to the roster and helped create their current identity. Those changes, combined with the change behind the bench, helped get the team going in the right direction to get them in the playoffs and begin this current run.

2. They won a playoff game with Jeff Zatkoff in net. Goaltending in the playoffs has been a question mark for the Penguins in recent years, and that was once again true at the start of the 2016 playoffs. Only this time the question wasn’t one of how well Marc-Andre Fleury would play, but who would actually be able to play. When their first round series against the New York Rangers started Fleury and his backup, rookie Matt Murray, were both sidelined with injuries. Fleury was out with his second concussion of the season while Murray was injured in the regular season finale. That meant third string goalie Jeff Zatkoff had to start the first two games of the playoffs. He ended up stopping 35 out of 37 shots in a Game 1 win. He wasn’t as good in Game 2, but just getting a split out of the first two games with your third string goalie when Henrik Lundqvist is standing at the other end of the ice is a pretty huge development early in a series.

Murray returned for Game 3, picked up a win, followed it with a shutout in Game 4, and other than one game in the Eastern Conference finals series when Fleury received a start (Game 5),has been the starting goalie ever since.

3. Beating the Capitals without Kris Letang. The first few games of the Penguins’ second round series against the Washington Capitals turned into a competition to see which team could do the most to get the attention of the NHL’s department of player safety. Tom Wilson was fined for kneeing Conor Sheary, Brooks Orpik was suspended three games for a late hit to the head of Olli Maatta, and then Kris Letang earned a one game suspension for a late hit to Marcus Johansson.

The Letang suspension came at a key point in the series just as the Penguins were taking a 2-1 lead in the series.

But because of Letang’s hit on Johansson they were going into Game 4 against the best team in the league during the regular season without a player that is not only their best defensemen, but is also one of their most important players. It could have easily been a turning point in the series.

In the end, it was. Just not in the way most of us expected it to be. Instead of the Capitals taking advantage of the Penguins being without their best defenseman, the Penguins were able to pick up a 3-2 overtime thanks to a Patric Hornqvist goal and a huge performance from Trevor Daley who was able to step up in a big way with Letang serving his suspension.

Trevor Daley’s Game 4 performance in the second round is a key moment for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

4. Nick Bonino’s series clinching goal against the Capitals. With a chance to eliminate the Capitals in Game 6, the Penguins raced out to an early 3-0 lead and seemed to be in complete control of the game. And then they started taking penalties, and the Capitals started scoring goals. Three in a row, in fact, including two in the final 12 minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime. A loss would have sent the series back to Washington Game 7 and would have been an unbelievable single game meltdown. Instead, the line of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin came through for them yet again when Bonino scored seven minutes into overtime.

5. The Bryan Rust game. It is not always going to be your star players that score the big goals, and even though Sidney Crosby had three game-winning goals in the Eastern Conference finals, including an overtime winner in Game 2, it was one of the Penguins’ mid-season call-ups that came through in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rust scored two goals — the Penguins only two goals for the game — in the second period in a 2-1 win to help send them to the Stanley Cup Final.

That performance gives Rust five goals this postseason, matching his career total in 55 regular season games. Four of those five goals this postseason have come in elimination games after he also scored a pair of goals in their 6-3 Game 5 win to knock out the New York Rangers.

Rust’s winning goal in Game 7 was one of the rare moments in the series where Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy looked anything other than outstanding in net. But that is why carrying the play and outshooting teams matters. Sometimes you get that bounce.

Five key moments that contributed to Penguins Stanley Cup Final run –