Hockey in PittsburghWhen you hear “hockey” and “Pittsburgh” in the same sentence, you probably assume that the Penguins are being talked about. Contrary to popular belief, Pittsburgh did have an NHL franchise before the Penguins, which was known as the Pirates. The Pirates came to be in 1925 after the departure of an amateur team called the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets were a successful team, winning the United States Amateur Hockey Association’s championship in 1924 and 1925, but their owner still faced extreme financial troubles which forced him to put the team up for sale. It was bought by James F. Callahan. Later that year, the NHL granted Pittsburgh the right to house a team. Callahan asked Barney Drefuss, the owner of the baseball Pirates, to use the name for his hockey team as well, and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL were born.

The Pirates  1925-1930

As does any newly formed team, the Pirates needed to find athletes to compete. All in all, ten different players from the Yellow Jackets made the move from amateur to professional in order to play for the Pirates. The Pirates were surprisingly successful in their inaugural season, finishing with a record of 19-16-1, good enough to finish third in the league of seven. They faced the Montreal Maroons in their first ever playoff series, and lost the best of three series by a count of 2-0. The following season, the Pirates finished fourth and missed the playoffs, and in their third season, they once again made the playoffs, but were eliminated by the New York Rangers in the first round. Things only went downhill for the Pirates from there. They struggled on the ice, and the team was eventually sold. When the Great Depression struck, attendance dropped tremendously, and the owners tried selling their star players to pay off debts. In the end, the deficit was just too large to overcome, and the NHL moved the team to Philadelphia to become the Quakers.

While the Pirates had a relatively uneventful short life, lasting from 1925-1930, the team did leave its mark on today’s NHL. Pirates’ coach Odie Cleghorn became the first coach to change his players during the game on the fly. Prior to Odie, teams would always wait for a whistle so they could change their players during a stoppage in play, but Cleghorn put his players out while the game was still going on. This method is used all the time in hockey today. There is another tradition that is still used in hockey that was started by the Pirates. Teams used to leave their star players out on the ice for as long as they possibly could, sometimes lasting for a full period at a time. Cleghorn had set lines going into each game. He would have three specific forwards playing together to compose one line, three forwards for a second line, and his last three forwards made up his third line. This was to keep players fresh and playing their sharpest each time they hit the ice. Once again, this is the way things are done in hockey today, with the addition of a fourth forwards line, and three pairings of defensemen. The Pirates were also the first Pittsburgh team to use the now iconic black and gold color scheme.

The Pittsburgh Hornets

Even including the Penguins, the Pirates were not the only hockey team to play in Pittsburgh, although they are the only other one to have played in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Hornets moved into town in 1936, just six short years after the departure of the Pirates. The Hornets did not start in Pittsburgh, however. Nine years earlier, they were founded as the Detroit Olympics. In 1936, John Harris, the owner of a theatre chain, purchased the team and moved them to Pittsburgh, thus founding the Hornets. The Hornets played their first four seasons as members of the International-American Hockey League (IAHL). Their first three seasons were relatively unsuccessful, but in their fourth season they qualified for the playoffs and lost in the Calder Cup finals, losing to the Providence Reds.

Following the 1939-40 campaign, the IAHL turned into the American Hockey League (AHL), which still stands as today’s minor league affiliate of the NHL. As the minor league affiliate to the NHL, each AHL team is assigned to an NHL team. That NHL team can use their corresponding AHL team for help. If they lose a player to injury, they can call up someone from their AHL affiliate to play for them. If a player is playing poorly enough, he may even be sent down to play for an AHL team to try and get his game back on track. For eighteen years and through 1945, the Hornets were the AHL affiliate to the Detroit Red Wings. That ended the following 1946 season, however, when they became the affiliates of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team’s fairly unsuccessful existence up through this point started to finally take a different turn. In the 1946-47 season, the Hornets found themselves back in the finals, fighting for the Calder Cup against the Hershey Bears. This success was not short-lived, unlike that in their recent past. Two years later they went on to post a team best eighteen losses a season, a truly impressive number (38 wins, 18 losses and 12 ties, a very good record). Things hit a huge speed bump in 1949, however, with the team’s goalie, Baz Bastien, losing his right eye after being hit by a puck in the preseason. The team persevered, putting together a strong regular season and again losing in the Calder Cup finals to the Cleveland Barons. Much of the success the Hornets had can be attributed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The presence of a strong NHL team can truly rub off on its AHL affiliate. From 1946-51, the Maple Leafs won four Stanley Cups in just five seasons. Their style of play trickled down to the Hornets, and that is what helped them with their transformation into one of the AHL’s top teams.

In the 1951-52 season, the Hornets finally reached the very top of the league. They finished the regular season in first place and won the team’s first Calder Cup in the playoffs. They remained at this high caliber of play, reaching the finals the following season, but losing the Calder Cup for the fourth time in team history. The 1954-55 season was another extremely successful one for the Hornets. They once again captured the regular season title and the Calder Cup as well. After the following season, the Hornets play had to be put on hold in 1956 because their home arena, the Duquesne Gardens, was to be torn down as part of Pittsburgh’s urban renewal project. The team, however, refused to leave Pittsburgh. Things started to turn around for the team just two years later when their future home, the Civic Arena, was starting to be constructed. The Civic Arena was finished in 1961, and the Hornets once again had life after a five year hiatus.

The Pittsburgh Hornets: A New Home

This new life was not a very fun one. The Hornets’ first two seasons back were dreadful. The 1961-62 season saw many different team lows. Some of those new lows include the most times being shut out in a season (9), most losses (58), and most home losses (27). The next season didn’t see any significant improvement. Although they went from ten wins to twenty, there was a span of twenty-three games in which the Hornets went winless. With the help of a young goaltender, Roger Crozier, the Hornets’ fortune started to change. The Hornets rode their rookie goalie back to a winning record in 1963-64, and again in back to back seasons from 1965 through 1967. The 1966-67 season would be the last one the Hornets would ever see. In 1966, Pittsburgh was granted an NHL franchise. There was only enough room for one hockey team in the city and this meant that the Hornets had to go. They refused to go down quietly, however, by winning the Calder Cup against the Rochester Americans in their last season.

When everything was all said and done, the Hornets ended up with four division titles, three regular season league titles, and three Calder Cups. In addition to those numbers, the Hornets can boast about thirteen different Hall of Famers, including Sid Abel, Andy Bathgate, and Tim Horton, the founder of Tim Hortons.

The Pittsburgh Penguins

67B-Pittsburgh-PenguinsPittsburgh’s new NHL franchise that forced the Hornets out of the city is the team that is synonymous with Pittsburgh hockey today, the Penguins. For twenty-five years, the NHL had been operating with just six teams, famously known as the Original Six. Those six teams are the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1967, for the first time since 1942, that lineup would change. The 1967 NHL Expansion saw the field double, growing from six teams to twelve. The six teams that were added were the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, and California Seals (their name changed to the Oakland Seals not long after and then eventually to the California Golden Seals).

The Penguins limped their way into the NHL. There were rules in place to keep most of the talent on the Original Six teams. With the exception of two aging future Hall of Famers and former Hornets, Andy Bathgate and Leo Boivin, the Penguins roster was made up entirely of minor league players. At this point, the NHL was made up of two different divisions. One division consisted of the Original Six teams, and the other division consisted of the six expansion teams. The top four teams from each division qualified for the playoffs. The Penguins finished fifth in the division for their first two years, but their third season saw them finish second in the division, and the team advanced to the second round of the playoffs. They were able to accomplish this through the help of great play in the net by Les Binkley and the stellar rookie forward Michel Briere. Briere led all rookies in scoring that season, and finished second place in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the best rookie each season. In the playoffs that season, Briere led the Penguins with five goals and three assists, including the overtime goal to complete the sweep of the Oakland Seals in the first round. The Penguins would eventually lose to the St. Louis Blues in six games in the next round. Just weeks after their 1970 playoff run ended, Briere returned home with plans to marry his childhood sweetheart in early June. On May 15, 1970, Briere was involved in a violent car crash in which he was ejected from his car. He suffered severe brain trauma and remained in a coma until his eventual death almost a year later on April 13, 1971. Briere’s number 21 was not retired right away, but it was never worn again by another Penguin. In 2001, the Penguins had Briere’s number officially retired.

The 70’s and 80’s

The Seventies saw the Penguins put out some fairly powerful offensive clubs, being led by the “Century Line” of Syl Apps, Lowell MacDonald, and Jean Pronovost. The Pens were qualifying for the playoffs almost yearly, making it in seven out of eight years from 1975-82, but only advanced past the first round two times. In 1975, the Penguins were only the second team in NHL history to do something that is absolutely devastating for a team’s morale. In the second round of that year’s playoffs, the Penguins had a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series against the New York Islanders, but went on to relinquish that lead and lose the series. This was done only once previously, and was repeated again only thirty-five years later.

The team’s talent started to thin out as the Eighties came around. All three members of the Century Line had departed, either to another team or they retired. Offensive stars such as Pierre Larouche were traded away, as well as draft picks in exchange for players who were well past the prime of their careers. The Penguins made the turn into the new decade with superb players like Rick Kehoe leading on offense and Randy Carlyle leading on defense. After being eliminated from the playoffs in 1982 once again by the Islanders, the Penguins hit an all-time low. The following two seasons saw the Penguins put up the worst record in the NHL. Finishing the 1983-84 season in last place was, as strangely as this may sound, a goal that the organization was trying to achieve. Every team was trying to win the first pick in the upcoming draft, as the expected first overall pick was one of the most highly praised ever. The Penguins were not in last place as the season was starting to come to an end. They were chasing after the New Jersey Devils, trying to lose more games than them. The Penguins front office may have made some decisions that would have included not suiting up some of the team’s better players to ensure a loss almost every night. The Penguins lost eighteen of the final twenty-one games of the season, coming in last place. The Penguins were now able to call on a young eighteen-year-old to save their franchise. That young man’s name was Mario Lemieux.

Lemieux: An Immediate Impact is Made

Mario Lemieux Statue 2Lemieux made an immediate impact on the Penguins. In his first NHL game, he scored on his very first shot during his very first shift after stealing the puck off of the Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque. Later that season, Lemieux was voted into the All-Star game and became the first rookie to be named the MVP of the All-Star game. Lemieux put up unbelievable numbers every year, but it was not until his fifth season that the Penguins were able to make it to the playoffs again.

The Penguins finally rose back up towards the top of the league during the 1988-89 season, largely in part to Lemieux. Mario put up 199 points that season, including 85 goals and 114 assists. On New Year’s Eve of 1988, Lemieux achieved something that was never done before, and still has yet to have been replicated. Against the New Jersey Devils, he became the first player to ever score five goals in five different ways. He scored an even-strength goal, a power-play goal, a shorthanded goal, a penalty shot goal, and an empty net goal. The 1989-90 season ended in the regular season for the Penguins. The team struggled without its leader for twenty-one games due to a herniated disc in his back. The next year was quite a bit different.

In July 1990, just months before the season started, Lemieux underwent back surgery to fix a herniated disc. He was only able to play twenty-six games in that 1990/1991 season. Despite the loss of their captain, the Penguins came in first in the Patrick Division. They had help that season from young draft picks like Jaromir Jagr and Mark Recchi, as well as acquiring veterans such as Ulf Samuelsson and Hall of Famers Brian Trottier, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen, and Ron Francis. The Penguins looked very strong in the playoffs, beating the Devils in seven games, the Washington Capitals in five, and the Boston Bruins in six. The Penguins finally advanced to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals where they would face the Minnesota North Stars, another 1967 Expansion team. The Penguins defeated the North Stars in six games, winning the Cup on the road. The Penguins won that sixth game by a score of 8-0. Lemieux was the MVP of the playoffs and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. He scored sixteen goals and put up twenty-eight assists in just twenty-three games.

Sadly, just a little over a month into the following season (1991/1992), the Pens lost their coach Badger Bob Johnson to cancer. Scotty Bowman, the most successful coach in NHL history, took over. Lemieux put together another very impressive campaign. In just sixty-four games, he scored forty-four goals and added eighty-seven assists. The Penguins went on to finish third in the Patrick Division that year and they were able to replicate their playoff performance from the previous season. They squeaked past the Capitals in seven games in the opening series. The next series, against the New York Rangers, forced the Penguins through some adversity. In just the second game against the Rangers, Lemieux had his hand slashed by Adam Graves of the Rangers, breaking his left hand. Lemieux was forced to sit out of the next five games. The Penguins lost their first game without Lemieux, game three, but won the three remaining games of the series, and also the opener of the conference finals against the Boston Bruins. Lemieux returned for game two of the conference finals and helped the Penguins sweep the Bruins and eventually sweep the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals to win the Penguins’ second Stanley Cup in as many years. Despite missing five games, Lemieux led all players in the playoffs with sixteen goals and eighteen assists in sixteen games. Those numbers helped Lemieux win his second Conn Smythe Trophy in 1992.

Despite winning back to back Stanley Cups over the two previous seasons, the 1992-93 Penguins are widely believed to be the best on-ice product Pittsburgh has ever produced. Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, but that failed to deter him. He missed twenty-four games in the newly adjusted eighty-four game regular season, but he still led the league in goals and points. Lemieux would also lead the Penguins to a seventeen-game winning streak, a feat that still stands as an NHL record. The Penguins went into the playoffs as the heavy favorite, and they easily handled the New Jersey Devils in five games. They were expected to do the same with the New York Islanders in the next round. Instead, they found themselves deadlocked at three games apiece going into Game 7. The Islanders won Game 7 in overtime off of a shot from the stick of David Volek.

Year after year, the Penguins continued to be one of the stronger NHL teams, but their run at the top had ended for the time being. They would go on to qualify for the playoffs each season until 2001-02, but never advanced past the Conference Finals. This stretch of years would help shape the careers of many well-known Penguins, including Alexei Kovalev, Martin Straka, Robert Lang, Jan Hrdina, Ian Moran, and Darius Kasparaitis. While the Penguins were adding staples to their lineup, they had lost a great one.

A Difficult Time for the Penguins

The year 1997 marked a depressing one for the Penguins. Mario Lemieux announced his retirement, after losing to the Flyers in the playoffs, due to his dwindling health. Despite his health difficulties, his abilities had not fallen off. In the 1997 season, Lemieux led the league in points once again, winning his sixth Art Ross Trophy. Life for the Penguins had to go on, as difficult as it may be to do without Mario.

The following year, the Penguins filed for bankruptcy. The team had massive amounts of debt. They had been asking players to defer their salaries, and they eventually owed players up to $90 million, one-third of which was owed to Lemieux. Due to their financial problems, the team appeared to be on its way out of Pittsburgh. Mario Lemieux proposed to turn the $30 million he was owed into equity and he took over the team and kept it in Pittsburgh.

Lemieux’s absence on the ice was definitely noticeable, but his shoes were filled fairly well. Jaromir Jagr, or “Mario Jr.” if you were to scramble the letters in his first name, took the hockey world by storm. At first he was a very young supporting member of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup teams, but as time went on, his role with the team grew substantially. By the time the 1994-95 season came around, he was on top of the league. In a shortened season due to a lockout, Jagr led the league with 70 points in only 46 games, winning his first of many Art Ross Trophies. The following season, Jagr scored 62 goals and put up a total of 149 points, thus setting the record for the most points by a player born in Europe. When captain Ron Francis left the Penguins in 1998 to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jagr took over as captain, and also as the best player in the NHL. He went on to lead the league in points for four consecutive years and he was voted as the league’s MVP in 1999.

Jagr was certainly good enough to lead the Penguins during the regular season, but he lacked the leadership that Lemieux had to carry his team through the playoffs. In 1998, the Penguins were the second seeded team in the East but were knocked out in the first round. The following two seasons saw the Penguins fall in the second round. In the 2000 playoffs, the Penguins faced the cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, losing the series in six games, including a loss in a game that lasted five overtimes.

A Comeback???

The following season would be a very memorable one among Penguins fans for a multitude of reasons. During the first half of the 2000-01 season, there were rumors spreading that Mario Lemieux was going to make a comeback. Sure enough those rumors came to fruition on December 27, 2000. In a nationally televised game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Lemieux made sure the hockey world knew he was back by tallying a goal and two assists. Very late in the regular season, the Penguins made an addition to the team that would prove to be very beneficial. In March of 2001, the Penguins made a trade with the San Jose Sharks, bringing in Johan Hedberg, an unknown goaltender. He shocked everyone by greatly exceeding the expectations put on him. Known as “The Moose” because of the moose painted on his blue goalie mask, Hedberg, along with the help of Lemieux and others, carried the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins were the sixth seed in the playoffs, and as a result surprised everyone when they were able to make it to the third round of the playoffs. The second round against the Buffalo Sabres is still a very fond memory for Penguins fans. Pittsburgh was on the brink of elimination. They were down three games to two but they were able to win Game Six in overtime. Game Seven went to overtime as well and defenseman Darius Kasparaitis ended up scoring the series winning goal. The following series, though, was not nearly as enjoyable. The New Jersey Devils massacred the Penguins in five games.

The Dark Ages

The next season started what is known in Pittsburgh as “The Dark Ages.” The team was in severe financial trouble and was forced to trade away much of their core. Jagr was traded to the Washington Capitals, Alexei Kovalev was traded back to the New York Rangers, Martin Straka was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and Robert Lang left for free agency. Following the loss to the Devils, the Penguins would not make it back to the playoffs until 2007. Not only did they continue to miss the playoffs, but they were always one of the worst, if not the worst team in the league. The Penguins were able to take advantage of those rough times by rebuilding their team through the draft.

Among the countless problems facing the Penguins on the ice, their goaltending issues were arguably the most obvious. In the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, the Penguins had the third overall pick. There was a very highly touted goalie that caught the eyes of the Penguins. They made a trade with the Florida Panthers to move up from the third pick to the first pick, securing Marc-Andre Fleury, or the Flower, as a Pittsburgh Penguin. He made a name for himself early by winning NHL’s Rookie of the Month in October 2003. His numbers started to decline, but it wasn’t totally his fault. He had one of the league’s worst teams playing in front of him, offensively and defensively. Fleury eventually went back to Canada to play for his Juniors team for the second half of the season.

The Penguins finished with the worst record in the NHL during the 2003-04 season, and it looked like they were going to have the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Washington Capitals, though, were able to win the draft lottery, giving them the first pick. (The draft lottery is literally a lottery. Each team has a chance with the draft lottery but the team with the worst record has the most balls with their name on them and it goes like this up to the best team with the least amount of balls. The balls are picked much like you would pick the numbers at a bingo game. The teams end up drafting players in the order that their team ball is picked.) The Penguins received the second pick. Alexander Ovechkin was going to be the first pick in the draft. There was never any doubt that he would go on to be a superstar. He is surely who the Penguins would have drafted had they won the lottery, but any Pens fan today would tell you that they prefer who the team got with the second pick. Evgeni Malkin was supposed to be another very solid player in the NHL for years to come, and he was the player to fall into the Penguins’ lap with the second overall pick. Even though they were picked in the same draft, Ovechkin started his NHL career a year before Evgeni Malkin did. Malkin was not allowed to leave his team in Russia due to a transfer dispute between his league and the NHL. They actually took away his passport to keep him from leaving because he still had a year left on his contract with them. He was eventually able to more or less sneak away from his team and make his way to the US.

A Hockey Season that Never was and a New Star player

The 2004-05 NHL season was the one that never happened. The entire season was cancelled due to a lockout. The NHL collective bargaining agreement, the basic contract between the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), had expired, and a new agreement could not be reached in time to save the season. The lockout did not delay the 2005 draft, however. This draft was described as the biggest draft since 1984, the year Mario Lemieux was drafted. It was all thanks to one seventeen year old kid named Sidney Crosby whom the Penguins were fortunate to get. Crosby’s rookie season with the Penguins was another rough one for the Pens. Despite bringing in huge names through free agency such as Sergei Gonchar, the team struggled mightily. Ziggy Palffy, the team’s second leading scorer, announced his retirement in the middle of the season due to a lingering shoulder problem. In January 2006 Mario Lemieux announced his retirement, never to come back to the ice again. Lemieux had developed an irregular heartbeat and he decided it was best to just call it quits. In terms of the all-time NHL records, Lemieux finished seventh in points, eighth in goals, tenth in assists, and second in points per game. Wayne Gretzky came in first in points per game. Although the team struggled, Crosby tallied 102 points, setting the new Penguins rookie record. He finished second in points for rookies, and missed getting the Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year) to Alexander Ovechkin. One of the biggest storylines of the 2005-06 season for the Penguins, though, is that Evgeni Malkin did not play.

Due to being contractually obligated to his team back in Russia, Evgeni “Geno” Malkin was unable to play for the Penguins as soon as everyone would have liked. Geno’s Russian team had their training camp in Finland, but the team initially took his passport away from him to keep him from flying across the Atlantic to play in the NHL. When his passport was returned to him, he did just what they feared and signed with the Penguins immediately. He was only able to stay in the United States after he and his agent found a loophole in his Russian contract.

The Penguins had once again received a very high draft pick in 2006, picking second once again. Jordan Staal was selected with the high pick. The Penguins finally had their young talented core of Crosby, Malkin, and Staal, all backed up by veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar, hard-nosed defenseman Brooks Orpik, and a blooming “Flower” in net. These stars truly shined. Crosby led the league in points and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP. Geno was voted as the Rookie of the Year, while Staal finished in second place to him. This team finally gave the Penguins the push they needed to make it back to the playoffs for the first time in six years. They were eventually ousted by the Ottawa Senators in five games in the first round. The season was considered a success not just for making it to the playoffs, but for keeping the team in Pittsburgh as well. Mellon Arena, formerly known as the Civic Arena, needed to be replaced and the Penguins were going to move if they didn’t get a new arena. Luckily there was an agreement to build a new arena in Pittsburgh for the Penguins to call home. Another headline to take out of this season was that the Penguins defeated the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout in the first annual Winter Classic, an outdoor game now played every New Year’s Day.

Penguins: An Elite Team

The 2007-08 season is when the Penguins emerged as an elite team. Despite losing Crosby and Fleury for half of the season due to high ankle sprains, but thanks to Malkin, the team was able to finish in second place in the Eastern Conference. Following another successful regular season, the Pens flew into the playoffs. With the help of newly acquired Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill, they swept the Senators and defeated the Rangers and Flyers each in five games. The Pens would go on to play the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing in six games. Despite sounding like it was a competitive series, the Red Wings controlled five of those six games. They would have won in five games had it not been for the heroics of Max Talbot to tie Game 5 with less than a minute left, followed by a Petr Sykora goal in the third overtime. Pittsburgh fans knew the team was in for trouble when Fleury, the first Penguin to come out to the ice, tripped on his way out before Game 1.

The following season was full of storylines. Hossa left the Penguins and signed with the now hated Detroit Red Wings. The Pens ended up finishing in fourth place in the East. On the individual front, Malkin led the league in scoring and Crosby came in third. Despite Malkin having more points than anyone else, the team’s rival, Alexander Ovechkin, was voted as the MVP. In the playoffs, the Battle of the Keystone State (the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Philadelphia Flyers) took place in the first round. The Penguins were the better team for much of the series, taking a three games to one lead before dropping Game 5. In Game 6, the Pens found themselves in a hole being down 3-0 in the second period. But thanks to a memorable fight by Max Talbot, the team clawed its way back to win the game and the series. In the next round, the Pens met up with their second biggest foe, the Washington Capitals. The series was being promoted as “Crosby vs. Ovechkin.” The two best players in the league finally got to square off in the playoffs. The Capitals won the first two games, but the Penguins were able to turn it around and defeat the Capitals with a blowout in Game 7. The Eastern Conference Finals would not prove to be as difficult as the previous two series. Led solely by Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins were able to plow through the Carolina Hurricanes in just four games. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Penguins had a chance to exact revenge and defeat Marian Hossa and the Detroit Red Wings. The series started out poorly, just like the year prior. Detroit won the first two games, but the Penguins went on to tie it up. Game 5 was a disaster for the Penguins. They came out firing and controlling the game, but nothing would go their way. They lost the game 5-0 and everyone wrote them off. Game 6 was played back in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, with a huge last stand by Fleury and the defense, were able to win 2-1 and send the series back to Detroit for a Game 7, winner take all. After a scoreless first period, Maxime Talbot was able to put two goals past Chris Osgood in the second period to give the Pens a nice cushion. Things took a turn for the worse when Crosby took a strange hit. He would try to return to the game, but he was simply unable to keep playing. The Pens gave up a goal in the third period, but much like Game 6, they were able to heroically hold off the frantic attacks of the Red Wings. The Pens won their third Stanley Cup, and just like the first two, the third was won on the road. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, and Crosby became the youngest team captain to win the Stanley Cup.

Out With the Old and In with the New

Consol Energy CenterThe next few years became very frustrating ones for the Penguins and their fans. The year following the Cup win, Crosby led the league in goals and finished tied for second place in points. They would go on to lose in seven games in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens, giving the Mellon Arena a disappointing goodbye. The 2010-11 season gave hockey fans quite a show during its first half. Crosby was playing the best hockey of his life. He had scored a point in an incredible twenty five straight games but the season took a turn that no one would ever want to imagine. The Penguins played in their second Winter Classic, this time against the Capitals. In this game, Crosby took what seemed to be an inadvertent elbow to the head. The following game, his head got slammed into the glass. He began experiencing severe concussion symptoms. To make things worse, in a freak accident Malkin tore both his ACL and MCL, eliminating him for the rest of the season. This was all happening just as Jordan Staal was coming back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the first half of the year. The team somehow managed to remain at a consistently high level of play, although they were eliminated in seven games in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightnings. The new home of the Penguins, the Consol Energy Center, saw as dreadful of a rookie season as an arena can.

The 2011-12 season started without Crosby on the ice. He was still experiencing concussion-like symptoms. So little was known about his condition or his situation that it led to speculation as to whether or not Crosby would ever play hockey again. He made his initial comeback in November, putting up two goals and two assists against the New York Islanders. He would play seven more games before his symptoms sidelined him again. In the midst of all the Crosby hype, Malkin was enjoying the best season of his career. When the season was all said and done, Malkin led the league in points over Steven Stamkos by twelve points, even though he had played seven less games. The season, however, was not over for Crosby. In March 2012, he felt as if he was 100 percent and he came back playing like he was. He and Geno led the Penguins to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference and they were everyone’s clear favorites to win the Stanley Cup. In a bizarrely high-scoring first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins were handled fairly easily. They dropped the first three games, before eventually folding in Game 6.

There will be so much more to be written about our favorite hometown team. If you aren’t a fan of the Penguins now, start watching! You might even find yourself adding some Penguin gear to your wardrobe!

By Michael Gliozzi