Two years ago, the Penguins were down 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. I was driving in to work to finish the nights Penguins report. One thought stuck out in my mind. After everything the Pens had endured since 2010, it looked like it was going to end the way that it always seemed to end: with disappointment.
Sidney Crosby’s Penguins were destined to become the 1990’s Atlanta Braves. Sure, they had won a title. But, this team was built to win multiple championships.
Let’s rewind a bit before we hit the fast-forward button. I, like many a Western Pennsylvania boy, grew up watching Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr soar on the ice.
I would run up to my parent’s third floor bedroom and describe Mario’s latest trick and imitate Mike Lange’s goal calls.
On Christmas in 2003, I remember getting a Marc-Andre Fleury Koho sweater. I ran from one side of the igloo to the other to watch Ryan Malone score an OT winner in his rookie season.
I loved the game, and for a while, hey, it loved me back! Until it didn’t.
The “X Generation” almost killed hockey in this town. Some dude who sold Blackberries was going to move the team to Kansas City. I, still very much a young man, was crushed. The 04’ lockout was a killer for a kid who didn’t care much for school, but loved coming home to watch hockey during the long Pittsburgh winters.
Those were dark and uncertain times for hockey fans in this city. Would the team move? If they stayed, could they ever get back to prominence again?
Then along came Crosby, and it all changed. Finally, there was hope. The team was going to stay, and maybe he could be the next Penguins captain to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The team did stay. He did hoist the cup.
In an instant though, like in Flowers for Algernon, it was gone.
Jaroslav Halak, David Steckel, Marc-Andre Fleury, Claude Giroux, Jarome Iginla, Martin St. Louis, Brian Gibbons, Dan Bylsma, and Henrick Lundqvist all had their hand in the Pens post-cup failures. Note: it’s probably not fair to include Brian Gibbons.
Let’s hit fast-forward again. To May 22nd 2016. I was driving in to the station to do my Penguins report. I fully expected the Pens to be eliminated by Tampa and fall back into the dark ages. Sidney Crosby’s run was going to be looked at like the ‘90s Braves.
But thanks to a fortuitous offside call and some clutch play, the Penguins won game 6 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Pens have been defending Stanley Cup champions for the last 695 days. I’ll have been married for three years come August. I was a single man the last time the Penguins lost a playoff series.
I’m like every other hockey fan in Western PA. I live and die with the Pittsburgh Penguins. For a while, it was bumpy, but it was worth it.
For the past 695 days that team that was going to move to Kansas City has been the defending champ. This franchise has given us hockey fans more than we could have ever hoped during the “X Generation.”
If you’re upset today, I get it. Angry? I suppose that’s fine too. We all support our team differently.
But for me, it’s been 695 days of happiness. I’ll be smiling like a butcher’s dog.
Photo's courtesy of Getty Images