Penguins Win Stanley Cup, Become NHL's New Elite
Yet again, it wasn't easy, but battles of titans never are. In the wake left behind by the Penguins and Red Wings, it's time to consider one thing: the Wings, with their tradition and history of excellence, have been unseated atop the hockey world.
While there's no shame in losing in seven games to a team as talented as the Penguins, especially when you've set the bar unreachably high for a decade-plus, this loss feels more significant, more grave for the Wings. It feels like the making of a new superpower. It feels like the Penguins are poised to occupy the spot the Red Wings have inhabited, and that they'll be there for a long time.
He missed almost half the game after being ridden hard into the boards that left him hobbled, but Sidney Crosby had no problem skating over to accept the sport's ultimate prize. It's one the Penguins earned with a remarkable comeback over the second half of the season behind new coach Dan Bylsma and a tenacious postseason that saw them erase two 2-0 series deficits against teams most counted them out against.
Though Crosby couldn't join his teammates in protecting a 2-0 lead under increasingly vicious Detroit attacks in the third period, and though he didn't have a particularly sparkling series against the Wings, the Cup victory as a whole was in large part due to The Phenom. Criticize him -- or his personality -- if you wish, but Crosby answered the bell this postseason, carrying the team when Evgeni Malkin or Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in the opening rounds.
At 21 years old, he's the youngest captain in NHL history to hoist the Cup, the leader and brightest star on a team full of young seeming icons-in-making.
That list includes, by the way, the goalkeeper Fleury, who sparkled as his team stifled Detroit early before allowing a flurry of offense late for a second consecutive game. It was a diving save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the game's final second that sealed Pittsburgh's victory, an ending that set a new standard for climactic finishes and led to the site of Fleury realizing that he had just made the last save of a Stanley Cup championship season.
Not among those Penguins considered an icon-in-making, Max Talbot secured his place in NHL lore (and ensured a lifetime of adoration in Pittsburgh) by becoming the ninth player to ever score two goals in the seventh game of a Stanley Cup final. Hockey's playoffs have a knack for unearthing unexpected heroes, and on this night Talbot had his time in those shoes.
Young as they are, the Penguins seemed to have reserves of energy in this series after the Red Wings began to show wear in their legs upon winning the first two games. Especially in Games 6 and 7, Detroit seemed content to start slow out of the gates and rely on experience, clutchness, and, dare I say, a sense of entitlement that allowed the charged Penguins to jump out to early leads and hold on.
Not that these Penguins are all fresh-faced neophytes; they are a perfectly constructed mix of talented young guys and hungry veterans, guys like Sergei Gonchar looking for their first Cup and Bill Guerin, who won his first title 14 years ago and must have been wondering at the beginning of the year whether he would see another winning season in his career, let alone another championship.
The deadline trade for Guerin, saving him from the ruins in Long Island, made a huge impact on this team's fortunes. Guerin, who looked washed up on the Islanders, found a second wind with his change of scenery. He took a sip from the fountain of youth and provided such grit, veteran presence, and a bevy of big plays. It was fitting that he accepted the Cup directly from Crosby.
Guerin's future is unknown, but to use the cliche that the Penguins' future looks bright is to ghastly understate. This team has a core that can easily lead to more celebrations. It's always myopic to judge a team's chances for a repeat before the champagne in the Cup even gets warm; a number of things can happen to derail a potential Penguins dynasty. But to look at this roster, their talent level, and to think that their best players haven't even reached their peak is foreboding for the rest of the league.
So we might want to get used to it. The hoist of the Cup every year is a significant piece of the sport's history, but when you watch this team skate the Cup around the rink, you don't think of the one-year wonders. You think of the Canadiens of the '60s and '70s, the Islanders and Oilers of the 80s and, indeed, the Red Wings of the last 10 years. All dynasties who claim supremacy over various eras of the NHL. Not only did the Penguins take the Cup from the Red Wings, they seem to have taken the keys to the entire kingdom, as well.