PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins spent a last few hours together Sunday, cleaning out their lockers, showing off the Stanley Cup at a Pirates game and wondering what could possibly top beating the Detroit Red Wings in a road Game 7.
Coach Dan Bylsma offered this suggestion: How about a repeat?
No NHL team has gone back-to-back since the Red Wings in 1997-98, partly because the post-lockout salary cap makes it difficult for teams to add the successful role players needed to win a title to the stars whose salaries take up so much cap space.
These Penguins are different from most Stanley Cup champions because so many of their top players are in their early 20s — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang among them.
To co-owner Mario Lemieux, who won consecutive Stanley Cups as a player in 1991 and 1992, the Penguins could do something special if they stick together.
Lemieux wasn’t talking about winning one Stanley Cup, either.
“I like our chances going forward,” Lemieux said.
Such talk seemingly puts pressure on a rookie coach who has yet to go through a full regular season, but Bylsma said such expectations would await anyone who stands behind the Penguins’ bench.
“Pressure is something I don’t put a lot of stock in,” Bylsma said, talking to reporters as the Stanley Cup sat a foot away on a podium.
“I think we can get back to the foundation and build again and try to do this again. It’s only one team a year that gets that opportunity and we’re going to try that next year. The challenge is you have to start all over again. You don’t get to start back on June 13.”
Bill Guerin, who was playing for the league-worst New York Islanders before being dealt to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, wants to stay with the Penguins because he is convinced their young leaders won’t accept complacency.
“One thing about winning once is you want to do it again right away,” said Guerin, who waited 14 years to win another Stanley Cup after first winning it at age 24 with New Jersey. “I’m sure guys will stay hungry. Detroit’s won a lot of cups lately because they’ve got players that stay hungry and they want to keep winning championships.”
Already, the Stanley Cup has taken quite a ride in Pittsburgh, although it has yet to repeat the 1991 visit it made to the bottom of Lemieux’s swimming pool.
Crosby took it home with him early Saturday morning — to Lemieux’s house — by strapping it into the passenger’s seat of his car with the safety belt.
A group of players made an impromptu visit to some South Side night spots with it Saturday night, causing a traffic jam as delighted fans called friends and urged them to rush down to see it. During the Stanley Cup’s night on the town, some players ate hot wings from it — wings, get it? — and held it over a second-story balcony to show it off.
Crosby cradled it and gave it another kiss as many in the crowd of 27,565 cheered him, 14 other players and Bylsma before the Tigers-Pirates game on Sunday. Coincidentally, the Pirates were paying tribute to the 100-year anniversary of their 1909 World Series victory over Detroit, also decided by Game 7 in Detroit.
“We won against all odds,” Guerin said. “We were down 2-0 (in the series), and we come back and win Game 7 in their building, where they don’t lose”.