Now that game 7 and the 2008-2009 NHL season is in the books, the following thanks are in order:
1. Thanks to Mario Lemieux. Thank you for keeping our team in Pittsburgh, and for not being afraid to spend your money on good players. The Pirates could learn something from you.
2. Thanks to Ray Shero for the brilliant job you've done in assembling a gifted, well-rounded team.
3. Thanks to Dan Bylsma. You figured out, instantly really, how to get the best effort and the most consistent play imaginable out of this group of players. Considering how inconsistent they were during the winter, that was amazing. I was critical of the team when they fired Michel Therrien and brought you in, and obviously I was wrong. Glad to be so.
4. Thanks to Michel Therrien. You couldn't get us to this place last season, but I look at your tenure as coach as a critical intermediate step to this championship. You demanded discipline, tenacity, and defense from your teams, which was a desperately needed change of culture for the Penguins.
5. Thanks to all the doubters in the mainstream hockey media. This means you, Pierre McGuire, Mike Milbury, Barry Melrose, and so on. Thanks for never giving the Penguins credit for playing well, and thanks for insisting that Detroit's victory in the series was inevitable. The Pens might have been more anxious in those big games had you not taken all the pressure off them like that.
6. Thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury. My personal Conn Smythe pick. So, just to review, you're an inconsistent goalie who lets in soft goals all the time, who can't control his rebounds, and who can't play well in Joe Louis. Who's laughing now? Thank you for being great every time we needed you to be: games 6 and 7 of this series, game 1 against Carolina, and games 2 and 4 against Philadelphia, just to offer a few examples. You should feel very, very vindicated this morning. As do I, since I've insisted since 2005 that you were capable of being a top-tier NHL goalie.
7. Thanks to Evgeni Malkin. MVP! MVP! MVP! You don't get the press of Crosby or Ovechkin, but you were everything your team needed in this postseason. Whether it was piling up a ludicrous 36 playoff points, or blocking shots and playing first-rate defense in close games, or being a nightmare to defend on the forecheck, or doing things like single-handedly breaking the spirit of the Carolina Hurricanes with the 5 goals you scored in games 2 and 3, you more than earned that trophy.
8. Thanks to Max Talbot. Thank you for turning into Alex Ovechkin in the second period last night. And thank you for challenging Carcillo to that fight in game 6 of the Philly series, completely changing the momentum of that game.
9. Thanks to Sid Crosby. It was tough luck that injury kept you from taking your last shifts in game 7, but seeing you lift that Cup last night was a sweet moment for this Pens fan. Few athletes take more crap from other players or from the fans than you, and few athletes have played under as much pressure as you, yet you've always handled it with grace and with class. You always work your tail off, and you're always ready to play. You are truly a great captain; that's another thing I'm happy to admit I was once wrong about. And, you know, thank you for being a monster in the Washington and Carolina series.
10. Thanks to Marian Hossa. "Hohhhhh-saaaah! Hohhhhh-saaaah!" Thank you for not signing with us, and for the verbal slap in the face you gave the Penguins when it was announced. Way to give your Finals opponent that much more motivation. Winning championships at the highest level, whether Stanley Cups, Super Bowls, or World Series, is about the team and the team's success. It's not only about you. You made it clear that you weren't in this season for a team; you were in it for yourself. For that reason most of all, I'm glad you didn't sign with us.
11. Thanks to the 2008-2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. From Sid Crosby on down to Philippe Boucher, you guys just played, and won, the biggest game in Penguins history. You played a controlled, focused, disciplined game; the perfect game for the situation. And you beat the Detroit Red Wings, a legitimately great team, on the road. It was a long season with a lot of highs and lows, but I will never forget this game. Thank you boys.