Almost five months ago to the day, the Pittsburgh Penguins sat five points out of a playoff spot, spiraling out of control, and the dream of reaching the Cup Final once again slipping away ever so quickly.
But a lot can change in five months.
The Penguins not only fought their way back into the playoff picture, but with new coach Dan Byslma leading them on, they cascaded all the way back to the biggest stage in the hockey world, against the team that crushed them last season.
Now, the morning after Sidney Crosby took the Cup from Gary Bettman, the captain and his mighty men sit a top the hockey world as Stanley Cup Champions.
The long road they took to get here saw them conquer everything that was thrown their way. From the position they sat in February, to beating the Detroit Red Wings at home in the Seventh Game, they never gave up, and never thought they were out of it.
They were down 2-0 in the second round to the Washington Capitals, and were forced to a Game Seven on the road against Alex Ovechkin's boys; and they beat them.
They met up with the cardiac Canes in the third round, who had just blown past the always-tough New Jersey Devils, and looked to be an awfully tough opponent for the Pens.
But they didn't even blink, and swept the Canes on their route to the Stanley Cup Final.
They were off to face the Detroit Red Wings, with a familiar face in Marian Hossa, who had skipped town after last season's loss to the team that won, in hopes of doing it again. Maxime Talbot was heard saying that he hoped, at the end of the Finals, that he could shake Hossa’s hand, look him in the eye, and tell him that he picked the wrong team.
The first two games in Detroit were exactly what people thought would happen. Pittsburgh was no match for the veteran Wings, with their speed, strong defensive play, and the ability to shut down Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The series should have been over after Game Two.
But back in Pittsburgh something strange happened and they won both games, rather easily. Back-to-back 4-2 victories saw the two teams locked up in a tie headed back to the Joe.
Penguins had all the momentum, they had Detroit thinking, and this was where they could make their move.
But yet again, after a 5-0 beat down, the Penguins looked to be down and out, one last time.
Game Six, for most people, was to be a repeat of the previous year, in which Detroit came in and won the Cup in front of a stunned Pittsburgh crowd.
The Penguins looked to be dead in the water, too tired and unable to find enough grit deep down inside them to beat the power house Red Wings.
For the hockey world, that was the night the Penguins should have lost their second Cup in a row to the same team, in the same building.
But this isn't your last-year's Penguins team.
They hung on for a 2-1 victory, headed back to Detroit for the ultimate game, Game Seven.
In a series that saw the home team win every game through the first six, this seventh game in Detroit should have followed the trend, the Penguins should have fallen victim to the wild Wings' fans and the Octopus. They should have been swarmed by the experience and determination of the champions of last year, who no doubt would come into the game excited to win on their home turf this time.
Once their captain, Crosby, went down with a painful-looking knee injury, they should have gone into shock and panic without their leader.
Instead they battled through it, and as number 87 hobbled out to the bench to watch his team, and give them the support they deserved, you could see the look in all their eyes.
They were not losing this year.
And after Max Talbot shocked everyone and shot the Pens to a 2-0 lead, and some sensational play by Marc-Andre Fleury, whose World Junior blunder is long forgotten now, lifted these supposed-to-have-lost Pittsburgh Penguins to the top of the NHL.
2009 Stanley Cup Champions.
Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill; the guys who are supposed to play a small role in the big picture of the team, stepped up and played the best games of all their careers.
When things seemed bleak, and impossible for them to overcome, they used the bond that they had formed with one another, and battled through every single thing that was put in front of them.
There could not have been a more deserving team to have won the Cup in 2009.
The Pittsburgh Penguins showed the NHL world that it's not just big names that win you games, it's not an experienced coach who knows the ropes of the Finals, and it's most certainly not over until it's over.
As Crosby took that glorious Mug from Mr. Bettman, he looked right at his teammates and headed straight for them with it held high. They all took a moment to share it together, before they even thought about carrying it alone.
This truly was a team.
Congratulations, Penguins. The Cup could not have gone to a more deserving team.
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