Big Lead Sports Bar




2001-02: 28-41-8, 69 points.

2002-03: 27-44-6, 65 points.

2003-04: 23-47-8, 58 points.

2005-06: 22-46-8, 58 points.

Those were some long years, Penguin fans. Some LONG years. And that's before I bring up the fact that this team was up for sale and facing the possibility of relocation as recently as last year.

But Penguins management had a vision, one that was at least partially fulfilled on Sunday as another step was taken toward the ultimate goal of a championship. For the architects of the team, it had to be an incredibly rewarding day. Despite this being a long-range plan, the puzzle came together much quicker than anyone could have imagined, although that was certainly expedited by the February acquisitions of the final pieces: Pascal Dupuis, Hal Gill, and Marian Hossa.

And for Penguin fans, some of the most loyal in all of sports, it was a memorable day as well. I was there for the last day of the 2003-04 season as 16,124 boisterous Pens fans filled Mellon Arena to 95.1% of its capacity for a matchup with the 23-46-3 Washington Capitals. Not a bad turnout for a team that lost 18 games in a row during that season.

The goals that day were scored by Lasse Pirjeta, Matt Bradley, and Milan Kraft. Other names on the scoresheet included Fata, Hussey, Jackman, and Focht. The goalie was Sebastien Caron. A handful of players on the current squad were on the team that day, including Ryan Malone, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, and Marc-Andre Fleury. For those men, a trip to the Stanley Cup was probably the last thing on their minds as they suffered through that nightmarish season. They deserve all the accolades they are now receiving, as they were all part of the transition from also-rans to front-runners.

Yes, there couldn't have been a better script written other than the one that played out on Sunday. The Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup, they were at home, they beat the Flyers, they scored six goals (two by hometown Malone) and Fleury got a shutout. The Penguins and their fans both left Mellon Arena incredibly satisfied but hungry for more.

The bond the Penguins have created with their fans was not a task completed overnight. It's the culmination of Student Rush tickets, delivering season tickets in person, handing out pizza to people outside the Arena, giant video screens for every playoff game, and scores of local charity events. Sure, the winning greatly helps, but this group is absolutely beloved by its followers.

The only sad part of Sunday's festivities was the realization that this will be the last time we see this particular group of players together. As Marian Hossa, Ty Conklin, Georges Laraque, Gary Roberts, Jarkko Ruutu, Pascal Dupuis, Adam Hall, Malone, Orpik and others hit unrestricted free agency, it's inevitable that some of them will no longer be Penguins. But if Ray Shero and company have proven one thing, it's that they know how to build a franchise. And as long as "The Big Four" are around and healthy, I'm pretty confident that the Penguins will be in the mix come this time of year for many seasons to come.

[By the way, I just wanted to note that I had this entire story written and lost it due to a crash. No, I've never heard of the word "backup" or "autosave". So it had to be completely re-written. Sorry for the late posting. Links, etc. to follow soon.]


HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Pile into the Cordova baby! We're going dancing with Lord Stanley!

Unknown said...

It is incredible to think that the Pens almost move out of the city...that Mario fought hard to keep them here..thanks!..and look...they are headed to fight for Lord Stanley! GO PENS! thanks for the article.

Anonymous said...

You know what they say....the 6-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey.

Well done, Pens!!!

Snuke said...

I kind of hope we play Detroit in the finals - I've been looking at the hockey news comments section and it looks like their fans are as obnoxious as the Philly ones.

I know, that's a big statement.

They claim we've never played a good defensive pair and that they'll shut us down and blah blah blah.

All I know is everyone's hated on the Pens all year (prolly because we have two Micheal Jordans - how sweet is that), and now we're finally on the cusp of that sweet, sweet title.

It'll be fun as hell to watch, and one way or the other, I think this'll be something we can get used to to...

ps - if you don't believe me about the haters, check out the March issue of SI. They asked 356 players which team would win the cup, and the Pens didn't make the final 6 or 7 and had less then 1% of the vote. Come on now...

Anonymous said...

Here's our recap of Game 5

Go Pens!!

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