The Stuff of Legend…. Pens Repeat

Marc Elliott

SUPERIOR… WOW! What a tournament! Before this years Stanley Cup tourney began I was asking myself many a time whether or not this tourney would represent some of the quality and excitement that I have grown accustomed to seeing in this tourney of tourney’s. And whether on Big screen, laptop or smartphone, I saw the whole tournament save for 2 games. I stand in awe today. The level of play, the drama of just about every series leading up to the nirvana of a Cup victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins did not disappoint one bit. Add to it the sometime gut wrenching, sometime heart warming stories behind the scenes and this event entertained just about every sensory feeling.  

You already know the series results, the box scores and so on, so I’ll get to the other “stuff”. My overall summary of the SC Final is that for at least the 1st four games of the series, with each club protecting home ice was that the Pens experience and energy overcame the Nashville Predators surge in their first two home tilts. The wave of juice flowing through the entire city of Nashville carried them to their two home wins. One side note, when in Nashville last week, I was thoroughly impressed with the number of fans I saw sporting Pred’s gear around town. The enthusiasm had to be witnessed to understand it. The number of businesses with signage urging their hockey heroes on was impressive. The best sign I saw? This one was outside of a hair salon out by the Gaylord Opryland complex; Lets Go Pred’s! Bring home the Cup! Penguins taste like Chicken! I got a laugh out of that one.  

Then, one thing turned this series, and it didn’t occur on the ice. Between G4 and G5 there was an extra day off. The Pens used it to dissect where they were at and why, make some adjustments and get some rest. That led to the G5 dominating performance that you saw from the Pens. Nashville was not going to win that night no matter what. That’s Championship experience grabbing a series by the neck and shaking it. But, there was still a series in the balance. It wasn’t a given that the Pens could go into the Pred’s den and exit with the SC in hand. To the contrary, the majority of major hockey media that I listen to was going with the Pred’s to take it to a G7. Either way was fine with me. But with what I saw in G5 from the Pens, I thought the tide had turned, and not for the Pred’s.  

The Pens had more jump and after the first goal it was on. The game was over after the 1st period. (a 6-0 F) In G6 it was a very tight game. There was a goal/no goal situation that went against Nashville. It was unfortunate. In my view the whistle clearly went before the puck went into the net, but the official that blew it probably wasn’t the one in the best spot to make that call. Would it have led to a different outcome if it had been counted? We will never know, so I’m not wasting time speculating. From that point the game tightened considerably and both clubs net minders were called upon to make game saving saves.  

The Pens eventually got the break that they could exploit and take advantage of which led to a Patrick Hornqvist tally with a 1:35 left, Carl Hagelin added an empty netter to give the Pens a 2-0 win and the Cup. And at least for me, seeing the Cup brought out and presented will never, ever get old. Congrats to the Pens, and Congrats to Nashville as well. They had one heck of a run.   The 3 Pens connected to the State of Hockey, Matt Cullen, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel have my congrats as does Minnesotan and HHOFer’ Phil Housley who was a coach on the losing side. I am of the belief that Housley is the leading candidate for the Buffalo Sabres Head Coaching vacancy. They were his original NHL club and he was brought up in the pro game by the legendary Scotty Bowman. I have zero doubt that he is ready for that job.  

IN LISTENING TO POST tourney analysis I heard many experts speak to the aura of the Pens being the first salary cap era team to win back to back titles. (Wings 97-98) Their emphasis was that that must be related to there being a cap in place. I can go along with that to an extent, but is that phenomena based solely on the existence of a cap? I don’t think so. It doesn’t explain the 1999 to 2004 SC non-cap era absence of back to back winners. That’s 6 seasons. Rather I believe it is a function of the improved athletic and conditioning levels of the players in the league, I think it to be indicative of the offensive and defensive systems in place now, most of which are utilized by every club in the league save for a few subtle tweaks here and there. In short, there is little difference in the “power” (strength and energy) of each club and little difference in how they play the game. The difference IMO lies in the teams that have been fortunate enough to get elite level talent because they stunk or couldn’t get out of their own way for sometimes seasons on end, thus “earning” the right to draft first and get a generational talent.  

And obviously it takes stringent roster and cap management to add to that talent once you get it, but is that the right way to do it, by rewarding a substandard team? I guess it is if you want to save your league business model. Fans will only patronize losing clubs for so long. The Minnesota Wild are my favorite team. I have been waiting for a SC here since 1967 when I was in Junior High. The Wild have yet to embrace this theory and that’s why they keep fielding “pretender” teams every season. They are good, even real good at times, they might get close, but they are absent that one guy, or two who can put them over. You know, Crosby and Malkin, Toews and Kane, Gretzky and Messier, Lemieux and Jagr and so on. Yes, I know, toughest trophy to win on the planet and so on. I get it. I just don’t like it, and…. Ahhhhh, the off-season is here. Time to relax and regroup! PEACE