Resurrected Penguins Writing Their Story Their Way
These Penguins have been downright unrecognizable, individually and collectively, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
They touched the trophy, which was a spit in the face of NHL tradition, but for the Penguins oh-so appropriate.
This was a team that should have celebrated with the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s Eastern Conference champion and shunned annually in a symbolic acknowledgement that there is still one more trophy to win.
Sidney Crosby didn’t care about that on Thursday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Penguins had touched the trophy in 1991 and 1992 and then won the Stanley Cup both times, or so Crosby had heard.
Crosby had also ignored the Prince of Wales in 2008, when the Penguins would go on to lose to the Red Wings, and then embraced it a year later, when the Pens ended up surviving the Red Wings in seven games for the Cup.
So the hardware handed out for Eastern Conference dominance the Penguins earned with their 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 7 was accepted with open arms, and if perceived NHL protocol was disregarded in the process, so be it.
These Penguins are different that way.
These Penguins, as it turns out, are different in a lot of ways.
They’ve been downright unrecognizable, individually and collectively, on the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
That point was driven home by NBC analyst Pierre McGuire during the Pens’ 4-2 victory over the Lightning in Game 3.
“There are people in Vancouver saying, ‘That’s Nick Bonino?’” McGuire maintained. “There are people in Anaheim saying, ‘That’s Carl Hagelin?’ And there are people in Toronto saying, ‘That’s Phil Kessel?’”
McGuire need not have stopped there.
He could have included people in Chicago who were no doubt wondering if the Trevor Daley playing defense for the Penguins was the same Daley the Blackhawks had traded to the Penguins.
McGuire might also have referenced Penguins fans in Pittsburgh who had been spending their time either standing and screaming at CONSOL Energy Center or scratching their heads.
The Penguins wouldn’t have done what they’ve done without defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was re-acquired in March of 2015 in a trade General Manager Jim Rutherford subsequently announced in public that he regretted making.
Nor would the Pens have gotten this far without defenseman Ian Cole. He arrived on March 2, 2015, as Lovejoy had (separate transaction). But by January of this year he was perceived to be a spare part, as the Penguins’ decision to scratch him from the lineup for 11 consecutive games confirmed.
Even defenseman Justin Schultz, picked up on Feb. 27 of this season for depth, played in nine of the 18 playoff games required to win the Eastern Conference title and looked nothing like the minus-78 player he’d been in four seasons in Edmonton.
That had to have folks in western Canadian outposts named after animal parts positively flummoxed.
Ollie Maatta, Conor Sheary, even rookie goaltender Matt Murray, as sensational as he’s been, was told to take a seat on the bench for Game 5 against the Lightning.
This ride hasn’t been smooth for anyone, or so it seems.
Perhaps that’s what’s made it so satisfying for everyone.
“I know there are a lot of stories that surround this group,” acknowledged head coach Mike Sullivan, the guy who started this season coaching several of his current Eastern Conference champions in the minor leagues. “But the greatest story of all is the group itself.”
When that type of tale unfolds the way it has for the Penguins this season, one trophy doesn’t quite seem enough.
One more ought to just about cover it.