The “Best Teams Ever” NHL Saturday miniseries continues with a hop, skip, and jump across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania … to Pittsburgh. In 55 seasons since joining the league as an expansion team in 1967, the Penguins have made the Stanley Cup playoffs 37 times—although they did not make it in this most recent season. Overall, Pittsburgh has won 5 Stanley Cups, though, which is quite impressive … including back-to-back titles twice (1991–92, 2016–17).
The other title came in 2009, and what is weird about this list below is that none of these championship teams made the the list of the five best teams in organizational history! We guess this just goes to show how strange of a sport hockey can be, perhaps the most unpredictable and honest of all the major sports. That’s why we all love it so much, though. Enjoy!
No. 5: 2020-21 Pittsburgh Penguins
During an abbreviated Covid season, these Pens went 37-16-3 for 77 points and a first-place finish in the East Division. They were No. 2 in goals scored, No. 13 in goals allowed, and No. 4 overall in the SRS ratings. However, they had to play the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs: despite going 6-2 against the Isles in the regular season, New York flipped the script on Pittsburgh and downed the Penguins in a six-game series, scoring 21 times in the matchup.
The top scorers were center Sidney Crosby (24G, 38A), C Jake Guentzel (23G, 34A), and defenseman Kris Letang (7G, 38A). Two goaltenders split duties, combining for 4 shutouts on the year: Tristan Jarry (25-9-3) and Casey DeSmith (11-7-0). Jarry got all the postseason starts, however, and three of the six games were decided by one goal—with the Isles winning two of those, both in overtime. Pittsburgh held a 2-1 series lead before dropping three straight contests.
No. 4: 2011-12 Pittsburgh Penguins
A second-place finish in the Atlantic Division was built upon a 51-25-6 record for 108 points. Pittsburgh was No. 1 in goals scored and No. 12 in goals allowed, which combined to establish a No. 2 ranking in the SRS ratings. But against the cross-state rivals from Philly, the Pens fell behind 3-0 in their opening playoff series in very ugly fashion. It was an uphill battle from that point on for Pittsburgh, and perhaps it was an accomplishment to even reach Game 6—when it ended.
C Evgeni Malkin (50G, 59A, 70 PIMs) and left wing James Neal (40G, 41A, 87 PIMs) formed a solid scoring unit, as seven players tallied at least 42 points during the regular season. In net, it was all about G Marc-André Fleury (42-17-4, 3 SOs), as his backups managed just a 9-8-2 record. But in the playoffs, Fleury imploded, giving up 26 goals in the six games, including 13 goals in Games 2 and 3 combined. It was not one of the future Hall of Famer’s best moments.
No. 3: 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins
With a 49-29-4 record for 102 points, these Penguins took the Northeast Division title—featuring the No. 1 goal-scoring offense and the No. 20 goals-allowed defense. That left Pittsburgh ranked No. 3 overall in the SRS ratings. Once the playoffs started, the Pens were all business, eliminating the Washington Capitals first in six games before dispatching the New York Rangers next in five games. But the upstart Florida Panthers beat Pittsburgh in seven games to end the season.
A whopping six players scored at least a point a game for this squad: C Mario Lemieux (69G, 92A, 54 PIMs), RW Jaromír Jágr (62G, 87A, 96 PIMs), C Ron Francis (27G, 92A, 56 PIMs), C Petr Nedvěd (45G, 54A, 68 PIMs), RW Tomas Sandström (35G, 35A, 69 PIMs), and D Sergei Zubov (11G, 55A). Goalies Tom Barrasso (29-16-2) and Ken Wregget (20-13-2) combined for 5 shutouts. But the Pens lost Game 7 at home to the Panthers by a 3-1 score with Barrasso in net. Ouch.
No. 2: 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins
This was another short season, albeit due to labor strife: Pittsburgh won the Atlantic Division with a unique 36-12-0 record for 72 points. With the No. 1 offense (again!) and the No. 10 defense, the Pens ended up No. 2 in the overall SRS ratings. Pittsburgh beat the Islanders in six games to open the postseason before next dropping the Ottawa Senators in 5 games. However, in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Bruins slammed the door shut on the Pens with a sweep.
Crosby (15G, 41A) and LW Chris Kunitz (22G, 30A, 39 PIMs) were the scoring leaders, while Fleury (23-8-0) and Tomáš Vokoun (13-4-0) were the stalwarts in net, combining for 4 SOs on the year. After Fleury struggled (2 losses, .891 S%) in the first round, Vokoun took over in the second round (.935 S%). But after dropping the first two games by large margins at home against Boston, the Pens went on the road … and lost twice by one goal each time, falling short once again.
No. 1: 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins
This Pittsburgh team was going for history, as the two-time defending champs: the Pens were a juggernaut, setting team records for wins (56) and points (119) on their way to a Patrick Division title. With a No. 1 ranking in the SRS ratings, the team was No. 2 in goals scored and No. 3 in goals allowed. Pittsburgh proceeded to open the postseason with a relatively easy 5-game series victory over the New Jersey Devils, but in a 7-game series, the Pens lost to the Islanders to end the run.
Again, six different players put up at least a point a game here (and a seventh just missed): Lemieux (69G, 91A), LW Kevin Stevens (55G, 56A, 177 PIMs), RW Rick Tocchet (48G, 61A, 252 PIMs), Francis (24G, 76A, 68 PIMs), Jágr (34G, 60A, 61 PIMs), D Larry Murphy (22G, 63A, 73 PIMs), and RW Joe Mullen (33G, 37A). Barrasso (43-14-5) and Wregget (13-7-2) again did their jobs well. But Game 7 against the Isles? An OT loss with Barrasso in net ended a dynasty in the making.