The Pittsburgh Penguins joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1967. Their first year saw them place fifth in the western division and out of the playoffs. The team wasn't a year old before owenership issues came to the front. As they worked through the financial issues, the Penguins would get the first taste of posteason play in their third year. They finished second in their division, making the NHL playoffs and before losing to the St Louis Blues in the semi-finals. After yet another change in ownership and front office moves, the Penguins were back in the playoffs in 1971, only to be swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Pittsburgh Penguins went hot and cold streaks through much of the 1970s. They missed the NHL playoffs for two consecutive years in 1972-1973. They turned it around in the 1974-75 season, finishing third in the newly establised Norris division. The Pens rolled throuh the first round, sweeping the St Louis Blues and faced off against the New York Islanders. They took a quick three games to none lead, but saw the Islanders comeback all the way to tie the series, and eventually win it with a 1-0 shutout of the Pens in game seven. The next couple of seasons saw the Penguins either lose in the first round or miss the NHL playoffs all-together. The team was back in the playoffs in 1978, losing to the Boston Bruins in the quarter-finals. In 1979 the Penguins unveiled a new uniform, relegating their blue and white uniforms for a black and gold outfit, similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates.
The new uniforms and the new decade saw the Pittsburgh Penguins start off by making the playoffs in their next three years even though they ended up losing in the first round in each of those three years. The 1983-84 season saw Pittsburgh fall to last place overall in the NHL. The upside was the ability to draft Mario Lemieux as their first overall pick in the 1984 NHL entry draft. Lemieux was considered a superstar in the making and he did not disappoint. Mario scored 100 points in his first year and won the Calder trophy as the best NHL rookie. His on ice numbers continued to imporove and he was soon named an NHL all-star. Even with Lemieux's superb on-ice play, the Penguins continued to struggle as a team. They finished at or near the bottom of their division for six years, in the process missing the playoffs. The turnaround began in 1988-89 when the Penguins found themselves in the playoffs, making it to the division finals. Craig Patrick came in as the general manager in late 1989, and would go on to put his stamp on the team. His most significant trade involved prying Hartford Whaler great Ron Francis in a multi-player deal. Soon after in the 1990 NHL entry draft, Patrick made two equally significant moves by drafting Jaromir Jagr as their first round draft pick and hiring Bob Johnson as coach.
These additions had an almost instant impact. The Penguins finished first in the Patrick division during the 1990-91 season. They worked their way through the playoffs and defeated the Minnesota North Stars in a six game series to win their first ever Stanley Cup championship. The playoffs cemented Mario Lemieux's position as the most dominant player in hockey, as he won the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs. The Penguins continued to take advantage of Lemieux's offensive dominance the next season as the high scoring squad won its second straight Stanley Cup championship, defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in four straight games. The offseason though was marred with tragedy as Bob Johnson was diagnosed with brain tumors and was replaced by the legendary Scotty Bowman behind the bench. Johnson would pass away in the fall of 1991 and the team would have to continue its on-ice quest for a three-peat with even more troubles. This time it was their super star player Mario Lemieux, diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. Lemieux had radiation treatment for a month, and surprisingly returned to the NHL to pick up where he'd left off by winning the scoring title. The Pens made quick work of the New Jersey Devils, but were stunned by the New York Islanders in a seven game series.
The next few years saw the emergence of Jaromir Jagr as a dominant force in the NHL. Mario Lemieux was still the marquee player, but back problems were hindering his playing time. In the summer of 1994 he announced that he would take a year off from the game to recuperate from his ailments. The Penguins playoff performances seemed to fall short of the two Stanley Cups they won in the early '90s. Lemieux returned in 1995, scoring a league leading 161 points and bagging the Art Ross trophy. Injuries though would continue to hamper his play and he finally announced his retirement at th end of the 1996-97 season. That off season also saw the firing of veteran coach Ed Johnston in favor of the defensive minded Kevin Constantine. The team changed its style of play of a more defensive one and finished first in their division, only to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 1998 NHL playoffs.
Change in Pittsburgh continued as the Penguins struggled to maintain their previous stature. The economics of the game put a huge strain on the team, which could still field a very potent lineup. The Pens continued to make the playoffs but were unable to re-establish any long term marks. 2001 saw the dramatic comeback of Mario Lemieux and it took no time before 'Super Mario' was back in his usual form. Though unable to play back to back games, he still provided the Pens with a potent offensive threat. But short lived was the stay of the Penguins' premier offensive weapon Jaromir Jagr. Jagr would be traded to the Washington Capitals for some draft picks; a trade that was for all intents and purposes a salary dump. The Pens have continued to struggle with the economic realities of today's NHL, having to trade Alexei Kovalev to the Rangers and going for a young (and inexpensive) team under coach Eddie Olczyk with Mario Lemieux handling the multiple roles of player, Chairman and CEO of the Penguins.
Pittsburgh Penguins Overview:
Arena: Mellon Arena
Stanley Cups won: 2 (1991, 1992)