Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Penguins take flight

There is a story told about the Edmonton Oilers first trip to the Stanley Cup final against the New York Islanders dynasty of the early eighties. I believe it was in Kevin Lowe's book "Champions" , it may have been a Wayne Gretzky story, or it may be both...The Oilers had just lost the cup and after the game a few of them were walking past the Islanders dressing room on their way out of the arena. This had been New York's 4th straight cup and they were celebrating as best they could. After the playoff battles were done, Potvin, Gilles, Trottier and everyone else were so banged up they could barely move. Ice packs and bandages and slings were everywhere. That was the moment that the Edmonton players realized what it takes to win the Stanley Cup; everything you have and then some.
The Oilers went on to win 4 of the next 5 Stanley Cups. Playing with broken bones, broken ribs, separated shoulders and everything else that goes with playoff hockey. Mark Messier would go on to be one of the greatest leaders in all of sports, bringing a cup later to the Rangers after a 54 year absence. That one moment looking at the Islanders was where those great players learned not only how to get to the final but how to win it.
Is this the year for the Pittsburgh Penguins to win it all? Are these great players ready to make the next step to great leaders? Detroit sure isn't ready to just hand the cup over without one hell of a fight.It's going to be an amazing final that's for sure. Detroit has been through this battle before and their core group of players have hoisted the cup under Steve Yzerman's leadership in '02.
There's something about Pittsburgh this year though. All of these young players have had to mature under the microscope with Crosby as their captain. Everywhere he goes the cameras are rolling. Three major things happened for Pittsburgh this year in my opinion. After coming back from injury, Fleury got rid of those ugly yellow pads - enough said. Crosby's injury opened the door for Malkin to emerge as a super star with increased ice time and responsibility. The other not so obvious factor was that while injured, Crosby could sit with Mario in the owner's box and discuss the game. It can't hurt to sit and watch a hockey game with one of it's greatest scoring minds ever and Malkin's great play meant that they didn't have to rush back their Captain.
With the way that they have marched through the Sens, Rangers and now the Flyers, Detroit is in for a long series. I'm not saying the Penguins will win it all this year but last season's second round exit to the Senators may have been their Islanders moment. This team has been on an accelerated learning curve so it wouldn't surprise me if they're ready now.
More to come in the days ahead... including my Stanley Cup winner...

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