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Jun 22nd 2009

Reflections on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Third Stanley Cup Championship

Recently, I experienced one of the rarest of joys for a sports fan. The payoff when a team you live and die for as a fan reaches the pinnacle of its sport. To explain: It is rare that I choose sides before a series begins. Other than always supporting my alma maters’ teams and US teams in international competitions, the only other team I always root for is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That commitment has not paid off in 17 years, since the Pens last won the Stanley Cup. It paid off on Friday night, when they did the improbable and beat the defending champion Detroit Red Wings on Detroit’s home ice in game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, the most watched NHL game in 36 years.

ESPN analyst, Barry Melrose, said on the ice after the game: “I think it’s one of the greatest wins we’ve seen in the NHL in 20 or 30 years.” Later, after having a chance to think about it, he said: “I think it’s one of the greatest victories I’ve seen — ever.”

It was outstanding. And unlikely. According to several sources, the Penguins are the first team since AD 1971 to win game seven on road in a Stanley Cup Final. Also according to several sources, the Penguins are the first team in any pro sport to win the championship by winning game seven on road in the last 30 years.

Moreover, in February, the Penguins were not even a playoff team. After Dan Bylsma came along in a mid-season coaching change, they went on a tear. However, they only managed to make the playoffs as a 4-seed. As a consequence, they were a low seed in two series, the Eastern Conference Semi-Final and the Stanley Cup Final, where they had to come from behind two games to none. Against Washington in the East Semis, they won the last four out of five games. Against Detroit, they repeated the feat. This is truly remarkable.

As Bleacherreport noted, in an article unfortunately titled, “Stanley Cup Finals Game Seven: Why Detroit Is Repeating As Stanley Cup Champions” (sic), the stars seemed aligned against the Pens going into this game seven:

….rest assured, Detroit will win Game Seven.

Detroit has outscored Pittsburgh 11-2 in [the first] three games at Joe Louis Arena. [T]he Wings are 11-1 at home in these playoffs. Against Pittsburgh, Detroit [at home] is 5-1 combined in two Stanley Cup Finals.

Detroit’s only loss at home this playoff year was in triple overtime. As I recall, their loss at home to the Penguins in the 2008 Stanley Cup Final was also a multi-overtime game. More from Bleacherreport:

Statistics aside, [Detroit] is an experienced team that has faced adversity more than once. Almost every player on the Wings roster has at least one Stanley Cup, with many holding multiple championship rings.

Out of three home games this series, Detroit has pushed the Pens to a meltdown twice. No one should expect anything else now. This wise, talented veteran squad should expect to take Joe Louis Arena by storm.

In Game Five, Pittsburgh was rattled by the home crowd. Expect nothing less than a repeat now, as a city looking for something to cheer about will be as loud and explosive as ever.

Will the Pavel Datsyuk storyline come into play? How about the Marian Hossa one?

Yeah, that came into play. Marian Hossa is a nice guy. I think he was thinking with his ring-finger, not his wallet or his heart when he turned down an enormous 5-year, $35 million dollar offer from Pittsburgh last summer to jump ship to play for the Red Wings, the team that had just defeated his team days earlier. He took Detroit’s 1-year, $7.45 million dollar deal. In July 2008, he explained his choice this way:

When I compared the two teams, I felt like I would have a little better of a chance to win the Cup in Detroit.

Hossa acknowledged the irony when asked about the Cup Final matchup before the series began, saying, “It is a little ironic and really unique.” Although I don’t hold it against Hossa personally, you have to admit that this sounds like “poetic justice.”

Poetic justice is a literary device or moral doctrine in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished, often by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character’s own conduct.

The guys who stayed loyal to the Penguins after the loss were rewarded with a Stanley Cup championship. Hossa, who didn’t have the vision, the patience or the faith in his teammates and the organization, ultimately lost out.

Adding to the irony, if Hossa had stayed a Penguin, he might have prevented the very moves that put Pittsburgh in the position to win the Cup this year. There might have been no early-season struggles and thus no coaching change to Bylsma, and there might not have been the room to make trades at the deadline that brought in Guerin and Kunitz.

I don’t care what Hossa says, his public statement about why he left Pittsburgh for Detroit has got to make this loss sting more than anything. Well, and the fact that he did not play very well in the Cup Final, in a contract year, no less. Bleacherreport continues:

Pittsburgh will have its day. Crosby and Malkin will one day hoist the Cup high above their heads. But right now, it’s still Detroit’s time. The immature and inexperienced Pens still have a bit of growing up to do. For now, they remain as Little Brother.

The story of games 6 and 7 was the elevated play of Pittsburgh’s third line,the inspired play of Marc-Andre Fleury, and the youth and strength of the Penguins that ultimately overcame the wisdom and Depends(R) of the Red Wings. Pittsburgh showed themselves to be the deeper, hungrier team. And that is why “Little Brother” hoisted the cup Friday night.

Also, check this out:

Zetterberg calls Crosby’s actions disrespectful

DETROIT (AP) Henrik Zetterberg says it was disrespectful for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby not to shake hands with all of Detroit’s players after Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup.

“I think that’s one thing you should do,” the Red Wings’ Zetterberg said as the players cleaned out their lockers at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. “I don’t know why he didn’t do it, it’s disrespectful.”

The biggest snub after Friday night’s game was to Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who waited while Crosby celebrated winning the Cup with his teammates. But he finally left the ice with a few other Detroit players.

“Sidney was probably caught up in the emotions and everything,” Lidstrom said, adding that Crosby would learn from the situation.

The senior Red Wings also criticized Crosby for listening to “that new fangled rock and roll music” and for spinning his tires after he picked up their daughters for a date. Then they took out their false teeth and went to bed. Kris Draper was mad at Crosby, too.

Penguins’ Gonchar tore MCL during NHL playoffs

PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar played the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a partially torn right medial collateral ligament, a major injury that can sideline an athlete for months.

This is after Sidney Crosby played more than a month during the 2007 season and playoffs with a broken foot. Hockey players are unbelievable. Other than the rare instance of bravery, this does not happen in other sports. Remember how Shaquille O’neal waited to have his surgery until the basketball season, since he “got hurt on company time,” so he would heal “on company time”? That’s the heart of a champion for you.

When I found out Sidney Crosby had played hurt at the end of 2007, I blogged a comparison with the current NY Yankees lineup:

this month, several of the MLB’s new york yankees have been placed on the 15-day disabled list. their maladies include:

damon: strained calf
pavano: tightness in forearm
matsui: hamstring pull
mussina: painful hamstring
chien-ming: hamstring pull

Embarrassing.

An estimated 375,000 fans attended Pittsburgh’s victory parade. Bylsma said of the occasion:

“We had the parade today, and it was beyond what you’d imagine. The only thing I can equate it to on my end is when you see the ticker-tape parade pictures in your history books, from the end of World War II, with people hanging out of the windows and jammed along the parade route. Row after row after row of people, and every face had a championship smile, a cheer. It was amazing.”

pens-cup-2009

More pictures here:
Scenes from the Pittsburgh Penguins Victory Parade

3 Responses to “Reflections on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Third Stanley Cup Championship”

  1. Coach Edmo

    WHOO-HOO!!! Great post!

  2. Mike

    Congrats to the Pens, although I didn’t really have a dog in the fight (still waiting for the Isles to learn how to not deal away a first round pick for peanuts)

    I have to say, though, that I’m with Detroit in thinking tha Crosby should have shaken hands with the Wings. I think Lidstrom was classy and probably right to give Crosby the easy out by chalking it up to inexperience–but someone from Pittsburgh should have had the class to whisper to the kid to shake hands with them.

    As for Hossa, screw him. It’s people like him (the ones tha ignore the fans that have been paying their salary for years) that have made me lose interest in Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA. So far I can still stomach the NHL, since most of its players are nromal considerate human beings, but Hossa is evidence that my NHL watching days may soon be over.

  3. bnice

    i second mike’s feelings on sid not shaking hands. i was watching when it happened, and i thought maybe he shook hands before or after the camera caught the end of game tradition. i expected more of him, but it doesnt change the fact that he is mvp.

    also ditto on hossa. he left atlanta for the same reason he left the pens. we don’t miss him here.