Pittsburgh once again celebrated her champions with a parade yesterday at noon, three days after the Penguins won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup against the Detroit Red Wings. Yes, there was that crowd of 27,565 welcoming them home from Detroit with the Cup, but the turnout for the parade exceeded the projected 350,000. Pretty darn good for a predominantly football manically-minded like Pittsburgh.
It’s funny but when you’re a sports fan, isn't everything is measured by big events instead of hours, days and weeks? And this parade is also following another such moment – the Steelers victory over the Arizona Cardinals in February of this year brought the Super Bowl championship title back to the 'Burgh as well. Now the Penguins, after a long 17-year wait, have brought the Stanley Cup back. How are the Pirates doing? Anyone know? Will this be a trifecta kind of year for that fair city, or will it only extend to the black and golds?
I can’t concern myself with any of that though, not in a large way at least. Yes, I love the city and wish everything good for it. But I am a hockey fan. Not a sports fan, but a hockey fan. My joy comes from the knowledge that my team in my adopted hometown have defied the odds and won the Stanley Cup.
What happened to the inevitable Wings win? The win everyone, sports gurus and hardcore fans included, said was going to happen? Ah, the Wings have experience on their side. They have premium players – not just two beginners, but many Olympic caliber star players. How could a Penguins team that was still too young and lacking in experience ever win the Cup? One year in the playoffs wasn’t going to serve them well enough.
So how come that young team was hoisting the Cup after game seven? Because they had some secret weapons that’s why. One, they lost a player (Marian Hossa) who may have cost them the win, since he ended up playing for Detroit. And two, they got rid of a coach that was disliked and replaced him with one who actually cared about the team as a whole and not just one player. Dan Bylsma got a chance to prove he had the strength and spirit to propel this young team to the Cup. He did not disappoint. He put together a blueprint for a win which the team trusted and followed. These Penguins are more relentless than they are dramatic or resourceful. The genius of their plan is its simplicity.
That's something the Penguins gained firsthand knowledge of a year ago against the Red Wings.
Sensing an opportunity to capture the Stanley Cup qualified as one of those. Dan Bylsma dug deep into his inspirational repertoire while trying to capture the spirit of the thing.
As has been his habit before games, Bylsma scribbled a famous quote onto the grease board in the Penguins' dressing room Friday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. Although movie quotes had often been a popular choice — recall the recent reliance upon "winners want the ball" from "The Replacements" — Bylsma chose the occasion of Game 7 against the Red Wings to revisit Penguins history.
When the players arrived this day in search of the franchise's third Stanley Cup, they were greeted by a declaration from the coach who had delivered their first.
"It's A Great Day For Hockey — Badger Bob Johnson."
For those who ventured to say a Penguins win may only be possible because of ‘the two-headed monster’ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, well, there was contribution from both, as expected. In fact, Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP in the series. But the unexpected winning goals came from equally unexpected players. Maxime Talbot with his ever present "heart on his sleeve" play and Rob Scuderi picking up the slack much of the series for a wandering Marc-Andre Fleury. Perhaps the Pens should have signed Scuderi as backup goalie instead of Mathieu Garon.
This all sounds so very like some scripted story out of Hollywood but it is the real deal.
These entire playoffs have been so much more than their hype, really. Pens. vs Flyers was supposed to be a bloodbath. Pens vs. Caps, too, had people talking about Crosby and Malkin's supporting cast not being enough to fend off the Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin. Pens vs. Canes in the Eastern Conference finals saw the Staal brawl catchphrase pick up speed, but it ran it’s course and died a quiet death with the Penguins win over them. Then came the rematch.
The Wings with newly acquired traitor Marian Hossa who left the Penguins to be on a Stanley Cup winning team… and for less money. Had Hossa stayed with the Penguins for more money, he may have won the Cup with them. Don’t think that didn’t make the Wings defeat just a bit sweeter for the Pens. But I say "may have won" because I'm not at all sure the Pens would have won with Hossa on their roster. His leaving allowed them to bring in the players who formed the team that won this championship.
"It's A Great Day For Hockey — Badger Bob Johnson."
And for the Penguins, these are the greatest days in hockey.
And as their fans lined the parade route today to thank them and cheer them, this hopefully will be the beginning of many more great days for a team that everyone said wasn't ready to win.