After the Penguins went on their run to the Stanley Cup Final in the summer of 2008, fans were yearning for more — for that push to win the Stanley Cup. Midway through the 2008-09 season, it wasn’t looking good. They had just been playing...average, at best.
Valentine’s Day Massacre
It was February. A cold night outside, and a cold night for Michel Therrien. The Penguins were taking a 2-1 lead into the third period, and ended up getting pushed around to a 6-2 loss, ending Therrien’s time as Penguins coach. Dan Bylsma would take over behind the bench, kicking off a new coaching era for the team.
Trade Deadline and the Playoff Push
At the deadline, Ray Shero made some moves, the most significant of which was bringing in Chris Kunitz from the Anaheim Ducks, in exchange for Ryan Whitney. League veteran Bill Guerin would also join the team from the New York Islanders, with his impact in the form of leadership set to take on a big role.
In general, the team would find themselves and start stacking wins together, including a 5-game road trip, in which the team went 5-0, and you could start to feel something special potentially in the works.
The Battle of Pennsylvania, Vol. 2
Different round, same rival. This time, the Pennsylvania division foes would square off in the first round.
Bill Guerin would give the Penguins a 2-0 series lead with a massive overtime goal on the power-play at the Mellon Arena.
As the Flyers clawed back in the series, and the Penguins headed to Philadelphia up 3-2, looking to close out their rival, Game 6 did not start well at all. Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, and Danny Briere, would each score to give the Flyers a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period. And then Max Talbot did a thing.
Not the best fight for Max Talbot, by any means — but what happened afterwards was pretty great.
- A dirty goal by Russian Fedotenko with Evgeni Malkin in the mix
- Mark Eaton jumping into the rush to redirect a puck past Marty Biron
- Sidney Crosby tying the game with some slick hand-eye coordination
- Sergei Gonchar blasting the Penguins into the lead
- Sidney Crosby ending the Flyers season
The Penguins had to dig back pretty deep in that game, and the series as well, to grasp momentum back from the Flyers and pull out the win, and it set up for an epic clash of offensive titans in the next round.
A series for the ages
Just four years removed from the lockout that cancelled the 2004-05 season, the two faces of the NHL — Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin — were set to lead their teams into a playoff series that would be talked about for a long time. Two offensive powerhouses entered the ring, and one would come out on top. The Penguins offense, led by the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal — and the Capitals led by Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin, both would cease to let up for almost the full duration of the series
The Penguins were frustrated from the drop of the puck to start the series for the first two games, mostly due to the fact that Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov played like a modern version of Dominik Hasek, and my oh my, was that hard to watch.
Yes, Varlamov kept that puck out. No, I don’t want to talk about it.
We even saw dueling hat tricks in the same playoff game from Crosby and Ovechkin. We might never see something like that again.
The Penguins finally got to Varlamov in Game 3, and got a notch in the win column thanks to a bounce in OT -- whew.
After rattling off three straight wins to take a stranglehold on the series, the Caps found life off of the stick of David Steckel in OT at Mellon Arena, sending it back to D.C. for a Game 7 at Verizon Center..............and it was a blowout. It might not have been, if not for the early save from Marc-Andre Fleury on Alex Ovechkin, though.
After six nail-biters and intense games with back-and-forth lead changes, the Capitals never kept it close in Game 7 and the Penguins walked their way into the Eastern Conference Final.
Back to the Conference Final
Afte making an appearance in the Eastern Conference Final a year earlier and getting past the Flyers in 5 games, I don’t think anyone was expecting it to be as easy ride of a ride and trip through to the Stanley Cup Final....except it was easier.
Evgeni Malkin became a man possessed — one who could not be stopped by the Carolina Hurricanes.
Poor Cam Ward. 4 games and a sweep to punch their ticket to dance with Lord Stanley yet again.
This time around, the Penguins would change their script from a year earlier and touch the Prince of Wales trophy.
Stanley Cup Final Rivals
A new year, a different season, hell, even a new coach for the Penguins...but the same team on the other side. The same Detroit Red Wings, who were still an incredible team, still a force to be reckoned with at insane levels, and the Pens were still underdogs.
It felt different early on, though. The Pens played like they belonged there. In 2008, they looked pretty shell-shocked. The first two games went pretty badly, still. The Pens couldn’t buy a goal at Joe Louis Arena. Pucks were bouncing off the end boards and into the net off of Marc-Andre Fleury’s ass. Justin Abdelkader scored some insane goal as a rookie in one of those two games. Malkin lucked out of a suspension after Game Two when he and Henrik Zetterberg got all steamed off at one another.
Changing the Script
Heading into Game 3 of the Final, everything so far had been the same and it felt like the same old bullshit. Game 3 was different. That’s where the Penguins and the Igloo came alive.
Sergei Gonchar, with the goal of a lifetime. What a rip.
In Game 4, Jordan Staal scored one of the most remarkable goals I’ve ever seen. Brian Rafalski still can’t figure out what went wrong.
What a moment to change the tide in the whole series.
If the Red Wings score a PP goal there, the series might be over sooner than later.
To finish things off, Tyler Kennedy ripped a beauty of a tic-tac-toe goal to seal things.
Game 5, we are not going to discuss. What a mess. I stayed home from a wedding that night because of the game and I watched that disaster.
A brief anecdote that is amazing to think about in retrospect — the summer of 2009, like many summers of my teens and 20’s, I spent working at Kennywood. I wasn’t there for this in person, but the day after Game 5, Mark Eaton was at the park with his family, and some idiot employee that I worked with had the audacity to ask him “So what went wrong?” and all Mark said was “We’ll be okay.” A few days later we’d find out that he was right.
Heading into Game 6, it was the same story as 2008. Trailing the Red Wings 3-2, the Penguins hosting Game 6 at Mellon Arena, with Detroit looking to take home another championship.
Tyler Kennedy had other plans.
Say what you will about Rob Scuderi in general -- and especially about how his second go-round in Pittsburgh went, but man. That save he made in front of the Pens net in Game 6 to keep the puck out.
What a moment.
A Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final with all the marbles on the line. What more could we ask for, as hockey fans? Aside from some heart pills to handle the swings, I can’t think of anything else.
Mario Lemieux sent a text to all of his players Friday morning. What a moment.
This is a chance of a lifetime to realize your childhood dream to win a Stanley Cup. Play without fear and you will be successful! See you at center ice.
Sidney Crosby got hurt early. It wasn’t ideal. Every single shot from both teams, we held our breath.
The Penguins ferocious forecheck that we had come to love created a goal. Max Talbot had his moment.
Little did we know, Max wasn’t done yet.
What a game for Max Talbot. He had the game of his life, exactly when someone needed to come up big and have that game.
We go into the third period with a 2-0 lead, and we’re not sure any of us are gonna make it to see the end. Jonathan Ericsson gets one back for Detroit and it’s 2-1. Gulp.
At some point late in the third period, Niklas Kronwall rings one off of the Penguins crossbar and we all black out.
The last 2 or 3 minutes of the game last for what seems like an hour. Multiple faceoffs in the Penguins end. All they need to do is clear the god damn puck and it’s over. The clock is winding down and the puck ends up on Nicklas Lidstrom’s stick. Oh great, not like this guy isn’t a legend or anything.
That’s it. It’s over. The Penguins did the impossible. They beat the veteran Red Wings. At Joe Louis Arena. In Game 7.
The group of kids who were humbled just two years prior were Stanley Cup Champions.
You enjoy the hell out of it, but at some point, it’s back to business, and time to defend that title. It didn’t exactly go as planned...