The 2021-22 Penguins may be the last time Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the three-remaining players from the 2009 Stanley Cup team, who also won titles together in 2016 and 2017, play on the same roster, leaving some to perhaps compare them to the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls and their “last dance”. You know, it was part of that 12-part documentary all of us watched with no sports happening during the early days of the pandemic?
The Penguins have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last 16 seasons, winning three of the four Finals they made it to, while also picking up a couple division titles along the way. Some have been waiting for the bottom to finally fall out like it did for the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, who have won multiple Stanley Cup titles in the last 15 years, but the Penguins, with that Crosby-Malkin-Letang core, and a rotating group of supporting players around them, continue to win more than they lose, making the tournament every spring.
Not every trip to the playoffs has been great. There are a good amount of first and second round exits, but are often outweighed by the three championships, a feat many would say is impressive in the salary cap era. There were also the first team in this era to win it in consecutive years, something the Tampa Bay Lightning have done the past two season, as they look to accomplish a three-peat, which the Penguins failed to do during the 2018 playoffs.
As I am writing this (May 10), the Penguins have a 3-1 lead over the New York Rangers in round one with a chance to close it out Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh has been snake-bitten in net, with starting goalie Tristan Jarry suffering a foot injury weeks before the playoffs and backup Casey DeSmith leaving with an injury during Game 1 of this current series in double overtime, with Louis Domingue holding it down between the pipes while making spicy pork and broccoli a popular meal. In Games 3 and 4, the Penguins made swiss cheese out of Vezina finalist Igor Shesterkin, as he gave up 10 goals combined and was pulled in both games the Penguins won to take their commanding lead.
With most of the series in the first round standing at 2-2 after the first four games, the Penguins are an outlier at 3-1. The Colorado Avalanche sweeping the Nashville Predators is the other.
Should this be the Penguins version of their “last dance”, they should dance their asses off like there’s no tomorrow for as long as they are alive in this season’s playoffs.
You can argue that teams like the Avalanche, Lightning and Panthers have a better chance to win the Cup this season, but the Penguins have a good number of players that know the ups-and-downs of playoff hockey and should feel that they have nothing to lose at this point.