A Stanley Cup Hangover? It's Not on Sidney Crosby's Agenda
Two games out of an 82-game schedule won't tell many tales about how good a team will actually be in the long run.
So a couple of early-season victories over New York for the Pittsburgh Penguins hardly prove that the 2009-10 edition will be a success. Or a failure, for that matter. In theory, the two wins are only good for one thing: the four points in the standings.
But for fans, the magic word of the first six and a half periods of hockey is resilience. The ability to recover.
Since the Penguins lost Rob Scuderi, Hal Gill, and Petr Sykora in free agency, hockey experts have been forecasting a Stanley Cup hangover for the champions.
And why not?
They have made two consecutive trips to the finals, a taxing journey that has left the Black and Vegas Gold with a pair of very short summer breaks. Over the past two years, the Penguins average 104 games per season. Or should we just say a lot of bruises and sore legs.
A poor run of pre-season results led to further belief in the hangover. The Penguins won a sum total of one pre-season game, not that it matters, but losing five straight games of any nature heading into the regular season is hardly ideal.
Then there was the groin injury to captain Sidney Crosby. Again. That damn groin.
But as he so often does, the King Penguin proved his critics wrong. He was not only on the ice in the first two games, but playing 20 minutes of ice time and putting pucks in the net.
There's no hangover on his agenda.
It's not like Penguins have been blasting teams away. They have won twice by a goal and needed a shootout to dispose of last year's basement dwellers. There have been stretches where the Penguins have played anything but great hockey.
Against the Rangers, they took a 3-1 lead into the third period. At the time, Dan Bylsma's squad was out shooting, out hitting, and outplaying the Blue shirts.
But the Rangers came out strong and cut the lead to one after new acquisition Marian Gaborik scored his first of the season.
With a Stanley Cup hangover, the Penguins would have allowed a tying goal in the next several minutes.
All of the pre-game hoopla and euphoria over raising a third Cup banner wasn't enough to take the Penguins focus off the task at hand. The crowd could also sense the momentum was slightly beginning to swing and got behind the home team.
The Penguins tightened up defensively and continued to push forward on offense like they were the ones going for a equalizing goal. Marc-Andre Fleury walled off the cage and preserved the victory.
The next night, the Penguins headed to Long Island, where 2009 first overall pick John Tavares made his NHL debut.
The atmosphere at the Coliseum was as electric as it's been since the 1980s. To make things worse, the Islanders scored on a deafening five-on-three advantage and Tavares scored his first goal.
But the Penguins tied the game at 2-2 in the third. That lasted 17 seconds.
On the next shot, Trent Hunter beat Fleury through a screen.
With a Stanley Cup hangover, the Penguins would have been stunned by the crowd and momentum going entirely against them.
But the captain and his mates kept pushing, and got another tying goal with less than four minutes to play. Ruslan Fedotenko, scrapping around the net like there's a minute left in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference finals and the Penguins are down a goal, took out the garbage and forced the game to overtime.
It's resilience, really.
Two games don't matter. But Crosby and the Penguins are already proving that what happened in the past will stay in the past. And even though every team will be gunning for them, the new 'Guins are up to the task.
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