Pens’ Historic Season Began a Year Ago by @kamo33090


Pens’ Historic Season Began a Year Ago

 By Jeff Kamovitch, freelance contributor


Everyone in the Penguins’ organization has something in common. It transcends being propelled to win. It is far deeper than the love of the game. It has been built over the course of a season, but it all began in last year’s playoffs.


The Penguins were stunned by a pesky Philadelphia Flyers team led by Claude Giroux’s one-hit-wonder year. Then came the summer and the fallout. Now the Pens are tied with the Islanders in a bout looking much like last year’s ill-fated series with Philly… but, as murky as the future looks, it’s far different. This all begins with Jordan Staal.

Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma couldn’t praise Jordan Staal enough. Given the money that the team had tied up in Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Martin and Neal, the sixty-million dollar contract that Shero offered Jordan Staal spoke volumes about his importance to the team.

But Jordan chose joining brother Eric in Carolina over a shot at the cup.

So Shero threw big money at Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. And both passed on Lemieux’s
money and chose Minnesota. And Pittsburgh got Brandon Sutter, a young two-way forward with a scoring ability.

            And then the Karlsson injury brought Matt Cooke back to the limelight. One Boston sports analyst likened him to Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. The Senators’ owner, Eugene Melnyk, was notably outspoken on the incident, hiring forensic scientists to prove intent to injure.
           
            Veteran defenseman Mark Eaton, seeing the end of his career before him, failed to crack the New York Islanders’ lineup and earn a spot. Eaton seemed to be wanted nowhere. There was so much left in the tank that had gone unspent, and yet Eaton could not find a suitor.

Two-thousand some miles away, Jarome Iginla begin to see the hourglass of his own career running out. He collected nearly every award and trophy an individual player could, including the assist on that storybook golden goal in Vancouver.

But one thing remained. He lost sleep. It ate at him. It always crossed his mind. He had peaked in his hockey career, but knowing that there was one feat he had yet to accomplish… it was time.
            
One can imagine Calgary General Manager Jay Feaster’s voice, tense as ever, talking to Jarome Iginla on March 29th.

           It must have been something brief and pressured: ‘Boston or Pittsburgh?’

            Iginla may have stood there, staring at the ground. His face hollow, trademark smile entirely absent at the thought leaving the only NHL franchise he had ever known.

But Iginla knew what he’d have to do to enshrine his name on the silver record of the players and teams who went the distance.

                        “Iggy! Iggy! Iggy!”

Sid’s voice must have reverberated in his mind. The electric crowd. The winning goal. The world stage. Winning everything. Everything.

Truth be told, it’s hard to believe that Boston ever held a chance.

Sidney Crosby can sympathize.

‘The concussion’ probably should have ended his career. It seemingly lasted forever. But hockey, to Sidney Crosby was, is, and forever will be life. He came back with a vengeance last season, the Penguins surging into the postseason in the hunt for another cup.

But he, like the rest of his team, was foiled.

The valiant return of Pittsburgh’s white knight to Camelot was shot down rather hastily by the interstate rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.

And suddenly Claude Giroux was in the conversation of some hockey journalists as the best in the world.
The best in the world.

Crosby’s stats don’t lie. He’s definitively the best, bar none.

But inside the machine that is Sidney Crosby is an undying fire to be the best ever. His resilience is remarkable. The contraption that adorns his jaw is a testament to his perseverance. He’d probably be too humble to admit it, but it’s true.

And in spite of his injury, Crosby hears himself and his team jeered at the Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum. He hears the hate. He sees the ‘No Diving’ signs. He knows. What the Islanders’ fans don’t know, though, is that something boils inside Crosby—a machine fueled on hate that brings out another level in him to silence critics.

Tuesday night, the Penguins suffered what some considered their worst loss all season. Play was sloppy, defense was missing in action. Crosby lost fourteen of sixteen faceoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury looked clueless. The Penguins’ social media world imploded with doomsday prophecy.

But don’t count on the Penguins losing this series. All bets are off. Tavares & Co. have proven their resilience, their grit, and their unwillingness to give up. But you’re kidding yourself if you believe for a second that Sidney Crosby’s going to let that happen.

Nor will Jarome Iginla, Matt Cooke, Mark Eaton, or Brandon Sutter, either. Nor will any of the rest of the Penguins. This group is a team composed of stacked talent, but the talent transcends ability; it has become intimately and passionately personal. For veterans like Joe Morrow and Jarome Iginla, this is only a rally cry at their finest hour.

They know they’ll never be on a better-suited team to win the cup. They know they’re fully capable of dispatching the Islanders. They know what they’re capable of physically and mentally.

It is time to win it all or fade into obscurity.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be the latter.

Pens in six.

           

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About Paul Clemente

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