"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight" - Phyllis Diller
The situation may be the identical, but this is not the same team that booked their ticket to the Finals last season.
Even with many of the same faces still wearing the Penguin on their chest, a lot has changed on this team since last season.
It starts behind the bench, with former coach Michel Therien out and Dan Bylsma in. The players immediately bought into the new bench-boss's system and jumped from tenth in the East to their eventual spot in fourth.
The new coach not only gave the team a new voice, but the player's collective attitudes seemed to take a change for the better as well. The struggles and failed attempts to live up to the standards from the previous season was weighing down on the team, but with the new attitude came a new appreciation of mixing their hard work while enjoying the game at the same time.
The team, and captain Sidney Crosby especially, had been criticized for taking things too seriously, even in practice when a little fun could have loosened up the atmosphere for a team that needed some relief from the pressure.
By the end of the regular season they were much looser, and would frequently be seen fooling around after practice on the ice, or playing the occasional prank to lighten up the mood.
The coach now successfully has his team focused on what they have to do during the game, while at the same time having the ability to get their head out of it, and relax a little - something that may have cost them in the Finals last season.
The new attitude could also be a reason for Crosby and Malkin's exceptional play in the first three rounds. The two have combined for an outstanding 56 points through the team's 17 games.
With the two super-star's ridiculous play have come some incredible performances from key role players on the team as well. Ruslan Fedotenko has stood out as a clutch performer by potting six goals so far. The same goes for defensemen Kris Letang and Mark Eaton who have both been crucial in their own end and dangerous in the offensive zone.
Along with the unbelievable play by better-every-day goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, the team seems to be firing on all cylinders—something their counterparts, the Detroit Red Wings, are known for.
And to beat a team that gets the best effort from all it's players every game, you have to do the same.
The Pens, a team that is lead by such prominent individuals has learned to band together as a team, and each do what is necessary to get the win, while finding time to laugh a little.
One of the most telling signs of the team's new attitude is the reaction to winning the Prince of Wales Trophy as the Eastern Conference's best team. Last season, Crosby shook the hand of Bill Daly, and politely posed for a few camera snaps before quickly skating back to his team, not laying a finger on the prize.
Superstition is a strong force in the NHL, and Sid was not one to mess with the long standing tradition of not touching the Conference Champion hardware, since it's not that one you're really after.
Well, this year the Penguins squashed that tradition.
Not only did Crosby lift the trophy proudly back to his team, where he and his teammates grinned for pictures, but the Prince himself was strapped in a seat on their flight back to Pittsburgh.
They figured last season's avoiding of it didn't work out so well, so this year they might as well have some fun with it while they had the time.
Plus, in the days of Mario and Jagr’s reign as Champions they always gave the trophy some love, and still came out on top when the ultimate prize was up for grabs.
Can't argue that.
The point is, last season they were so busy worrying about the job they had to do that they forgot to stop and enjoy the moment a little bit. Sure, one has to stay focusedand be prepared, but there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating victories along the way. While carting the trophy around the ice, almost mocking themselves from last year, you could see that Sid was most certainly enjoying the moment.
Still focused, but smiling.
He and his teammates have all learned from their experiences and now look like a team that knows what it wants; but this time around they know how to get it.
From sitting 10th in the East, to a change in coaching staff, to being down 2-0 in games to the Washington Capitals before bouncing back, to finally sitting back in the Finals where they were last season; the Pittsburgh Penguins may look the same on the outside, but things have most certainly changed with this team.
And if their momentum is not enough to carry them past the Red Wings, and their hatred for the team that took the cup from them last season doesn't do the trick, then they could always just look across the ice to the familiar face of Marian Hossa.
The man who jumped ship and ran to the 2008 Champions will be facing the Penguins in the Finals, instead of suiting up for them.
Hossa may have had a taste of what being apart of a Championship-winning team is like this season, but when the 2009 Finals are all said and done, it might just be Crosby who is flashing that Championship smile.
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