The following season, the Penguins clinched their first playoff spot since 2001. Though they lost to the Senators in the first round, the buzz surrounding the Penguins was incredible to be a part of. The very next season, the Pens lost in the finals to the Red Wings. I remember a phone call I had with my Dad, who seemed unfazed by the loss.
"You have to lose one to win one," he said.
"They'll get it next year".
Enter 2009. Game 7. Sitting in front of the TV in Curtis Kennedy's basement, 20 friends all around me. They could have been talking, I don't know. As time ticked down, all that mattered to me was the Cup.
16 seconds. A whistle. Numerous false faceoffs and an audible "WHAT THE FUCK" from a fan. Pens up 2-1. Wings get the puck, send it into the zone.
8 seconds. 7 seconds. 6 seconds. Whistle blows, Brooks Orpik is on top of the puck in the corner. One more faceoff in the defensive zone.
Zetterberg wins the faceoff.
Shot on net. Brian Rafalski.
Puck's loose. Lidstrom has a wide open net. Gets the shot off.
Marc Andre Fleury, the goaltender everyone said would fall apart, the former number-1 overall draft pick who nobody but us believed in, dives. The puck hits his chest.
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup.
It had been several months of the most exciting hockey I can remember watching. Rival after rival stood in our way. The rematch with the Red Wings, arguably the NHL's best team at any given time. All of it was over, as Sid grabbed the Cup from Gary Bettman and raised it over his head.
Scratch that, it had been several years of the most exciting hockey I can remember watching. From that day Sid scored his 100th point to that moment, it all seemed like one continuous J.R.R. Tolkein tale.
And now, if all goes according to plan, we get to do it all over again.
This year is different. The Penguins are the favorites, something I have to admit I'm not quite used to. Sure, they've had the star power for years, but it always seemed like the Canucks or the Capitals who got the headlines. Not this year.
The Penguins begin their journey with arguably their toughest challenge, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins have only defeated the Flyers once in the Consol Energy Center. I don't think that matters. In a few of the previous matchups against them, it was not the Flyers who beat the Penguins. It was the Penguins who beat the Penguins. They allowed themselves to get suckered into the Flyers' garbage after whistles, which got them off their game. It's the same thing Max Talbot did in 2009, and it's the same thing he and his Flyer teammates do now. And it works.
If Marc Andre Fleury plays to his potential, the offense continues being a machine, and the blue line is not a revolving door, the Penguins CAN win this.
If the Penguins do not give in to the bullshit after the whistles, the Penguins WILL win this.
The Penguins are tougher (deny it all you want, Flyers fans). Simmonds and Hartnell are tough cookies, but the Penguins pack Dupuis, Asham, Engelland, Kunitz, Joe Vitale, and a whole lot of attitude from Crosby and Malkin. I'll take that crew into battle any day.
Penguins in 6.
Quick thoughts on the other series.
Bruins - Capitals
- Yawn. The Bruins will win, the Capitals will choke. I feel like I've heard this story before. No way in hell Washington wins. If they do, I promise to chance the background of my blog to Alexander Ovechkin for a week. Bruins in 6.
Rangers - Senators
- Again, yawn. the Rangers bore me. The Senators bore me. The Rangers will win, because the Senators suck. I'm less sure about this one, so I'm not making a bet here. The Senators have an excellent record in Madison Square Garden, so they could play spoiler here. Daniel Alfredsson is a unicorn, and Jason Spezza is so bad that his team's fans had a rally to support him last season. It drew about 30 people. Not making that up. Rangers in 6.
Devils - PANTHERS?
- Before the season, I picked the Panthers to make the playoffs, so suck it, "experts". Honestly, the "experts" are never, ever, ever right. Why do they ask them their opinions? They're all failed coaches, anyways. Ask me, instead. I'll tell you who's going to win.
- This is the most boring series of all time. I may be pleased that I was right about Florida, but I'm not pleased that they'll be on tv sometimes. I think even the fans in the arena will be hoping that other games will be broadcast on the jumbotron. I won't watch a minute of this. Devils in 7.
Canucks - Kings
- The Kings appear to have the tools on offense. They just aren't that good. The Canucks, on the other hand are a machine, and will win this series easily. Just kidding. The Kings have Johnathan Quick. That dude's awesome. He's going to make a ton of saves, and cause the advil supply in Vancouver to plummet. Still, the Canucks are winning in 6. A very difficult 6.
Blackhawks - Coyotes
- Sweep. Blackhawks. Next season's premier of "Portlandia": "Moving In," in which uHaul trucks ironically move a hockey team to a town that couldn't care less. Hipsters need a job and a shower. In fact, this really solidifies my pick, since the Coyotes will soon be associated with those morons in Portland. Blackhawks in 4.
Blues - Sharks
- Go Blues. TJ Oshie is awesome.
- I don't know why, but the Sharks have always been a team I love to hate. I think it's because I enjoy their reputation for being bigger chokers than Mama Cass. For the record, Mama Cass did not choke to death on a ham sandwich, as the legend would have you believe, but it's still funny.
- Go Blues. David Backes is awesome.
- Blues in 7.
Red Wings - Predators
- If you're not aboard the Predators bandwagon, now's the time to get on. I've been there for two seasons now. What can I say? I'm a Weber fan. As a former defenseman, I can't help but love a team that chose to build around a goaltender and a core of defensemen. Their strategy is bold, but logical: can't score many goals, so don't let the other team do it either. This is probably the final ride for the Predators for a bit, as Weber and Suter are most likely on their way out. They'll be back, though.
- This is probably the final run for the Red Wings. They haven't missed the playoffs in my lifetime, but their are rumblings of Holmstrom and Lidstrom retiring at season's end. If so, two of their biggest weapons are gone. the Red Wings seem to follow Ozzy's advice to never say die, but time does eventually run out. Like a gambler holding on to his last shot at winning, the Red Wings will go all in. This is the series I'm most excited for, aside from our own. This SHOULD be like Rocky vs Apollo Creed. Except it's real.
- Ironic that it's the Predators who had a fossil on their uniform, since they'll be playing at least 4 games against a team that could be used to build Jurassic Park.
- Predators in 7.
Get excited, people. If you're not, then I can't do anything for you.
Me? I'll be running around like mad, scaring my friends.
Let's go Pens.