By Dejan Kovacevic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
It`s been three years since Marc-Andre Fleury slid across to stone Nicklas Lidstrom and Sidney Crosby raised the Stanley Cup on that joyous June 12, 2009, at Joe Louis Arena.
Three long, lousy years.
Or, to put that in more painfully precise terms, it`s been 101 games lost by Crosby to concussions and other stuff, 61 games lost by Evgeni Malkin to knee injuries and other stuff, and 60 games lost by Jordan Staal to two foot surgeries, three related procedures, an infection, a broken hand, a strained knee and … am I missing something?
Oh, yeah: Two Game 7 losses to inferior opponents on home ice.
Those might have hurt the most.
Anyone ready for a change?
Anyone ready for all that misfortune to take a hard Pittsburgh left?
I can name at least 20 individuals — notably the 10 who were in uniform that defining night in Detroit — who sure sound ready to generate that change, beginning with Game 1 against the Flyers on this great Wednesday for hockey at Consol Energy Center.
"The fire is there, for sure," Crosby said Tuesday after practice.
"This team`s really hungry," right winger Craig Adams said.
"We`ve wanted it all along," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "The desire was there even last year when we were playing without Sid and Geno. This year, it`s just a little more realistic."
Everyone around town has been sharing their first-round predictions in recent days. Here`s mine: These Penguins are going to win the Stanley Cup.
And when they do, few of us will even remember how they took out the Flyers.
I`m not suggesting it`ll be easy. Clearly, it won`t, based on the rivals` heated, mostly even back-and-forth this season. But I am saying there isn`t another NHL team — not the Flyers, Canucks, Blues, Predators, Rangers or anyone else — that can match the Penguins` total package.
That was No. 1 in the league, led by the game`s preeminent players in Crosby and Malkin and suddenly one of its preeminent wingers in James Neal.
Not many teams can claim seven players with 17 or more goals, and bear in mind that Crosby isn`t among them. He had eight. Chris Kunitz (26), Pascal Dupuis (25) and Matt Cooke (19) all had career-high outputs in supporting roles.
The power play ranked fifth, the penalty-killing third. If your biggest problem on special teams is how to utilize the best player on the planet with the man-advantage, you have no problems.
It`s got a star in Kris Letang, it`s got good mobility and, while it`s hardly rambunctious, I wouldn`t cross the blue line with my head down against Letang, Deryk Engelland or Orpik. That`s half the corps right there.
This is as tough as any roster, top to bottom, in franchise history. And I`m not talking about fights, which are rare in the playoffs. I`m talking Adams tough, Arron Asham tough, in-your-face tough.
OK, we`ll see on this one. Suffice it to say facing the Flyers first should help.
Of the current top performers at the game`s most important position, Fleury is the only one with a ring. That counts.
Add all this up, look at the rest of the field, and don`t be afraid to say it: This team is built to win the Cup.
Not to take a round or two.
Not to reach the final.
To win it all.
The way most in this locker room see it, they should have challenged for the Cup every year since 2009. They should have reaped so much more from this blessed well of talent, and they would have had it not been for the curse of injury.
"I think now comes the realization, with these last couple years, that you don`t know when you`ll get the opportunity again," Cooke said. "You don`t know when you`re going to have a full lineup like this. You don`t know when you`re going to have all this potential like we have. You want to make the most of it."
Now, dump the Flyers in five or six and get on with it. There`s bigger business at hand.