They may not have started the year in that mindset, but let me drop a name for you that changed that — Marian Hossa.
At the trade deadline, Ray Shero pushed his chips to the middle and set off a series of events that put the Penguins into win-now mode.
That trade, what a day. It was pre-Twitter and pre-internet immediate news moments, I remember a friend calling me to tell me and I was in college at the time, rushing to a computer lab to hop on ESPN.com and check the details. What a day.
A Great Day for Hockey
Heading into the playoffs: a rematch with the Senators from a year earlier. But this time was different.
Chris Neil sucked then and he still sucks now. Some things never change.
Gary Roberts unleashed hell on the Sens and the Penguins got their redemption, sweeping the series 4-0. The series was never close, and the young team from a year earlier that looked like they didn’t even belong looked hungry.
A second-round matchup with the Rangers
The Rangers were expected to be a more formidable opponent for the Penguins than the Senators were...but they were not.
The Pens took a 3-0 lead into Game 4 of the series at MSG. Jaromir Jagr had other ideas than a sweep, scoring twice in the Rangers shutout, sending the series back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 5.
Hossa has his signature moment
The Penguins came close to sweeping the Rangers too, but fell short in Game 4. They came back home to the Igloo to finish things off, and Hossa ended the series in dramatic fashion. What a moment.
Nothing like a series ending in OT. The puck goes in the net and that’s it.
The Battle of Pennsylvania
The Eastern Conference Final and the Philadelphia Flyers. A chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. The Penguins brushed aside their rival fairly easily, just like they did their last two opponents.
The whiteouts at the Mellon Arena will forever have a special connection with me thinking back to this first Cup run in 2008.
One of my personal favorite goals of this era — Evgeni Malkin letting a slap shot fly from close range against Marty Biron. My word.
And with that, the Penguins were set to make an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Going Dancing with Lord Stanley
Quickly writing off 3 opponents and then running into the machine known as the Detroit Red Wings. What a team they were. The Penguins were clearly in over their heads.
We should have known it was cursed from the get-go when Marc-Andre Fleury tripped walking onto the ice.
Being shut out in two straight games to start the series: SUBOPTIMAL. The fact that the Pens even made it a series after that speaks volumes for their resolve.
A Moment You’ll Never Forget
Sometimes even today, I still think about Game 5 of this series — the night that took years off of our lives. Picture the scene. Max Talbot saves the Penguins season with less than a minute in regulation. The game is now tied, so we play overtime. The Stanley Cup is out of its case and shined up and ready to come out if the Red Wings score. It’s tied after one overtime. We play a second overtime and we eventually go to a third overtime. It’s after midnight in June. The Red Wings have peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with over 50 shots on goal. Petr Sykora tells Pierre McGuire he's going to score.
And dammit, did he ever.
In retrospect, taking the Wings to six games and coming so close at the end to forcing a 7th game is somewhat remarkable in its own right.
That first taste of Stanley Cup success was so close, and it was ripped away. Gut-wrenching way to end it.
So close, but so far.
The next season, we would see a repeat of this Final, with a different turnout...