The 1990–91Pittsburgh Penguins season was the Penguins 24th season in the NHL, and they were coming off of a disappointing 1989–90 season, when they finished with a 32–40–8 record, recording 72 points, finishing 1 point behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Patrick Division, failing to qualify for post season play for the 7th time in 8 seasons. The Penguins placed first in their division, third-overall in the Wales Conference, on the way to the first-ever Stanley Cup championship for the team.
In the off-season, General Manager Craig Patrick, who finished the previous season coaching the club, would name Bob Johnson as the new head coach of the Penguins. Patrick also named Scotty Bowman as his director of player development and recruitment. Johnson had previously been the head coach of the Calgary Flames from 1982–87. The team also acquired veteran Bryan Trottier, who helped lead the New York Islanders to 4 straight Stanley Cups from 1980–83, to help out with his leadership abilities.
The Penguins would begin the season without Mario Lemieux, as he would miss the first half of the season recovering from a back injury that he suffered in a game against the New York Rangers on February 14, 1990, which caused him to miss the remainder of the 1989–90 season.
Pittsburgh would begin the season slow, and in their opening 31 games, the team had a 12–16–3, good for 27 points, and 9 points out of a playoff spot. As the season progressed, the team began playing better, had Mario Lemieux return to the lineup, and Patrick would make some trades, acquiring defenceman Larry Murphy from the Minnesota North Stars and Scott Young from the Hartford Whalers. The Penguins eventually came into playoff contention, and on March 4, when the team had a 32–30–4 record, sitting in 3rd place in the division, the club pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Whalers, trading John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski, and Jeff Parker to Hartford for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Grant Jennings. The deal helped the Penguins finish the season off 9–3–2, and win their first ever Division championship, finishing 3 points ahead of the 2nd place New York Rangers.
With Mario Lemieux missing the majority of the season due to his back injury, Mark Recchi stepped up, and had a breakout season, scoring a team high 40 goals and 73 assists for 113 points. Kevin Stevens would tie Recchi for the team lead in goals with 40, and add 46 assists for 86 points. Rookie Jaromir Jagr had a solid season, scoring 27 goals and earning 57 points, while Lemieux recorded 19 goals and 45 points in only 26 games. Paul Coffey led the defense with 93 points in 76 games. The 342 goals the Penguins scored was the 2nd highest toal in the league, only 2 goals less than the Calgary Flames
In goal, Tom Barrasso had the majority of playing time, winning a team high 27 games and posting a 3.59 GAA, along with a shutout. Frank Pietrangelo appeared in 25 games, finishing with a 10–11–1 record and a 3.94 GAA.
In the playoffs, the Penguins would open up against the New Jersey Devils, who finished the year in 4th place in the division, 9 points behind Pittsburgh. The teams split the opening 2 games in Pittsburgh, and then split the 2 games in New Jersey, before the Devils won game 5 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena to take a 3–2 series lead back home. The Penguins responded with a hard fought 4–3 victory in game 6 to bring it back home for game 7, where Pittsburgh completed the comeback with a 4–0 shutout to win the series.
Up next was the Washington Capitals, and Washington would surprise the Penguins with a 4–2 victory in the opening game, however, Pittsburgh tied the series up in game 2 with a 7–6 overtime victory. The Pens would go into Washington for games 3 and 4, and post back-to-back 3–1 wins to go up 3–1 in the series, and finish off Washington in the 5th game to clinch the series and advance to the Conference Finals for the 1st time in team history.
The Penguins next opponent was the Boston Bruins, the defending Wales Conference champions, and the Bruins, who finished with 100 points, had home ice for the series. Boston would take control of the series early by winning the opening 2 games in Boston, however, the Penguins responded by winning the next 2 in Pittsburgh to even up the series. Pittsburgh would return to Boston for the 5th game, and surprise the Bruins with a 7–2 victory, going up 3–2 in the series and returning home for the 6th game. The Penguins finished off Boston 5-3 in the 6th game, winning the Prince of Wales Trophy and going to the Stanley Cup finals for the 1st time in team history.
Pittsburgh faced the surprising Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup finals. While the North Stars had a 27–39–14 record during the regular season, they had been red hot in the playoffs, defeating the President's Trophy winners Chicago Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the defending Stanley Cup champions Edmonton Oilers to reach the finals. Minnesota would continue their hot streak with a 5–4 victory in game 1, however, the Penguins tied the series up in game 2 as the series shifted from Pittsburgh to Minnesota. The North Stars won game 3 with solid goaltending, but the Penguins rebounded in game 4 to tie it back up as they returned to Pittsburgh. Game 5 was a close, hard fought game, with the Penguins winning 6–4 to take a 3–2 series lead, and in game 6, the Pittsburgh Penguins would defeat the North Stars 8–0 to win the series, and the first-ever Stanley Cup in club history. Mario Lemieux, recording 44 points in 23 games, won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
†Denotes player spent time with another team before joining the Penguins. Stats reflect time with the Penguins only. ‡Denotes player was traded mid-season. Stats reflect time with the Team only.
Bold/italics denotes franchise record.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' second-round pick went to the Calgary Flames as the result of a June 16, 1990 trade that sent Joe Mullen to the Penguins in exchange for this pick.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' third-round pick went to the Philadelphia Flyers as the result of a September 1, 1989 trade that sent Wendell Young and a seventh-round pick to the Penguins in exchange for this pick.
b The Vancouver Canucks' sixth-round pick went to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a result of an October 24, 1989 trade that sent Rod Buskas to the Canucks in exchange for this pick.
c The Philadelphia Flyers' seventh-round pick went to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a result of a September 1, 1989 trade that sent a third-round pick to the Flyers in exchange for Wendell Young and this pick.
d The Buffalo Sabres' seventh-round pick went to the Pittsburgh Penguins as a result of an October 3, 1988 trade that sent Wayne Van Dorp to the Sabres in exchange for this pick.
Pittsburgh Penguins 1991 Stanley Cup champions
†† Goalie Wendell Young missed the first three rounds with an injury. Tom Barrasso also missed the last two games of Round 1 and first two games of Round 2 while injured. Bruce Racine was called up from the minors to serve as back-up to Frank Pietrangelo. Racine's name was left off the Stanley Cup because he had not played in the NHL – in fact, Racine never played for Pittsburgh. His only NHL experience came in 1995–96 for the St. Louis Blues. Racine was included in the team picture, and does have a 1991 Stanley Cup ring.
† 4 more players were included on the 1991 Stanley Cup picture, but were not engraved on the Cup. They did not play in the playoffs or qualify to be on the Cup.
Jay Caufield spent the whole 1990–91 season with Pittsburgh. He played only 23 regular season games and did not dress in the playoffs. His name was engraved on the Stanley Cup due to the team's petition, even though he did not qualify.