Blurring the Lines On the Way to the Stanley Cup
The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins hauled the Stanley Cup home with them, now Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach Ron Francis scored the Cup winning goal on a wicked wrist shot past Dominc Hassek in old Chicago Stadium.
Even now, with the stakes as high as they will be over the next two weeks of hockey, Francis remains one of the most popular athletes ever to wear a Pittsburgh uniform and is liable to receive an ovation from the Mellon Arena crowd if he appears on the old barn's Jumbotron during this series.
The same night Francis was working his magic in the offensive zone, present Carolina goaltending coach Tom Barrasso was keeping the Blackhawks at bay in the other.
Barrasso could easily have won the Conn Smythe Trophy that season were it not for the brilliance of some guy named Lemieux. Barrasso remains the greatest goaltender in Penguins history and the Stanley Cup would never have made it to the bottom of Mario's pool without him.
His boss, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, once held down the same job as Barrasso in Mellon Arena for parts of three seasons in the early 1970s and led a much weaker Pittsburgh team to the playoffs in 1971-72 (In the spirit of full disclosure Rutherford was also this writer's goaltending instructor at a summer camp and spent a great deal of time trying to refine the game of a wobbly 12 year old.).
Last but not least, even the guy who occasionally cranks the siren in the RBC Center has a connection or two to the Pittsburgh area, be it the street named for him near his childhood home in Crafton or the Lombardi Trophy that still bears more than a few of his figurative finger prints. That jaw on the other side is truly going to look out of place.
Yep, a decent sized chunk of the other guys connected to this series don't need a Garmin to get around Pittsburgh and at least, initially, that could be a problem for the fan base around these parts.
The sight of the Philadelphia Flyers logo or Alex Ovechkin sends the blood pressure of Penguins fans right through the roof. The fandom of Western Pennsylvania have been working with a frothing hate for the other side for almost a month.
Not this time, and not these guys.
This time the series is dripping with genuine respect on both sides of the ice and if you're looking for locker room material, you're just looking in the wrong place.
Maybe before this is over we'll learn a healthy dislike for Jordan Staal or Jarkko Ruutu's brothers, but for now the visage of the enemy reminds us of some cherished moments of our collective past.
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