Sounds simple, right?
Win 16 games and you earn the right to lift the Stanley Cup.
We all know nothing about those 16 wins is easy. Last year we all went through it first hand as the Penguins churned out the necessary wins to claim the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The road to the Cup is a long journey littered with obstacles every step of the way. Whether those obstacles are exorcising demons of playoffs past, overcoming THREE STRAIGHT DELAY OF GAME PENALTIES, facing elimination on the road to force a Game 7, or rebounding from disappointment at home to seal the deal on the road.
Whatever the obstacle may be, a true champion must overcome anything placed in their path if they wish to reach the mountaintop.
Winning the Stanley Cup is like writing book and the those 16 wins are the chapters, each telling their own story about the journey it took to get there.
Last season’s Cup run seemed like a fairytale that left lifelong memories and permanent heart damage. Nonetheless the book was written and the chapters told the story of what it took to achieve their place in hockey history.
The story goes something like this...
- Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury were out with injuries. In the biggest game of his life, Jeff Zatkoff stepped up with the game of his life.
- Murray returned and old man Matt Cullen put a dagger in the hearts of King Henry and his jesters.
- A shutout for Murray at The Garden pushed the Rangers to the brink.
- The ghosts of playoff pasts were exorcised with a rout in Game 5 to set up a series of titans.
- Olli Maatta leaves after a head shot and Eric Fehr returns to haunt his whole team to even the series going back to Pittsburgh.
- Playing maybe the best game of his career to date, Murray stops 47 of 49 shots to give Pens 2-1 edge.
- Deadlocked after 60 minutes of back and forth action it took overtime to decide. A fortuitous bounce finds Patric Hornqvist. Pens hold serve at home.
- Pens jump out to 3-0 lead. THREE STRAIGHT DELAY OF GAME PENALTIES. Caps tie it up. Overtime again. Nick Bonino puts the Capitals six feet under.
- “Sidney Crosby has never scored an overtime goal in the playoffs.” That narrative was killed 40 seconds into the extra frame.
- Chance after chance goes by the wayside as Andrei Vasilevskiy stands on his head. The stars finally break through to take series lead.
- Facing elimination in a hostile environment, Crosby has his moment to send it back to Pittsburgh for decisive Game 7.
- Folk heroes are made this time of year and they are often the ones you never see coming. Bryan Rust joins Max Talbot in Pittsburgh lore. Time to dance with Lord Stanley.
- A debt was paid in full and tied late, it was Kris Letang finding Bonino wide open. Three wins away.
- Kessel scores but the Sharks tie it late. Crosby draws up the play. Conor Sheary converts it. Two wins away.
- Ian Cole comes through. Evgeni Malkin finally gets on the board. Fehr ices it late. One. More. Win.
- Letang has the shift of his life and the Pens never look back. Defense holds Sharks to one shot in final period. Hornqvist puts a ribbon on it. CHAMPS.
What a run.
Never forget it.
Let’s do it again.
All we can hope for is another story like that one. Another 16 chapters that tell the story of a group of men who persevered through thick and thin to bring another title to the city where it is beloved above almost anything else.
This season the Pens won 50 games, an incredible feat for a team coming off a short summer and riddled with injuries. Now, those wins don’t matter any more. Every one resets at 0.
Every game the team wins from here on in will be more difficult than any of the 50 they won in the regular season and each victory will be harder than the one before it. That’s how it supposed to be. That’s what makes the Stanley Cup so special. You play 82 games to get a shot, then you have to navigate a two month gauntlet to reach the real prize.
That gauntlet begins tonight.
16 teams will start, only one will remain standing when the dust settles in June.
There is no shortage of great storylines spread throughout the league as the playoffs begin. One of the best resides right here in Pittsburgh as the Pens look to become the first repeat champs since 1998.
The target on their back is bigger than ever.
Every one wants what they have.
It won’t be easy.
It’s not supposed to be.
You play for this moment.
Enjoy this ride, regardless of how long it lasts. These are where the moments you remember forever are made.
A great man once said, “It’s a great day for hockey.”