“All good things must come to an end“
16-straight years of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey is a great thing, even with the numerous ups and downs that come with it.
There will be no playoff hockey in Pittsburgh for the first time since 2006, and while the Penguins have seen different players, coaches, general managers and ownership during that time, a spring without hockey closes this chapter for the franchise.
It’s one that has brought much joy and optimism that a Stanley Cup would be raised come June, which fortunately happened three times during this stretch, while also bringing the disappointment of a first round exit several times, and even worse, watching another team skate with the trophy on your home ice.
Criticism of the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins is vast and warranted, but there will be enough time for those issues to be vented with the extra time this offseason.
Let’s focus on the good by first saying “Thank You, Penguins”.
“Thank you?! For what?! Did you not see the way they played down the stretch, Sean?!”
Yes, I am aware and like others, I have sat in disgust as multiple goal leads disappeared and doors that were open are followed by the team stubbing its toe in the threshold, but as a fan, I can’t help but look back at this incredible streak and all it brought, and what this change could bring for the team going forward.
Over the course of this run for more than a decade-and-a-half, I have sat in Mellon Arena and Consol Energy Center/PPG Paints Arena, watching some incredible playoff hockey.
April 15, 2007, which marked the team’s first home playoff game in six years, I watched the Penguins lose to the Ottawa Senators, and while it was a short 5-game series that Ottawa won on its way to the Stanley Cup Final, Pittsburgh was a young team learning what it would take to compete beyond the 82-game slate.
The 2008 playoff run was special. Even though it ended two games shy of a title, it was a journey that I remember fondly. The Gary Roberts game against the Senators, the comeback from 3-0 down in Game 1 of the 2nd round against Sean Avery and the New York Rangers, to being in a whiteout of 17.132 fans chanting “Let’s Go Pens!” at the top of our lungs in the Final, they are just a handful of moments that I can visualize just sitting here as a I type.
To go through it again a year later, watching from the opposite side of the arena as Rob Scuderi kept the puck out of the net in Game 6 of the Final against the same Detroit Red Wings teams that wanted to raise the Stanley Cup for a second-straight year on their opponent’s ice, to Max Talbot scoring twice and jumping for joy after standing less than a foot from the T.V. during the final 6.5 seconds of Game 7 holding my breath as Marc-Andre Fleury made the big save that secured the team’s first title since 1992, it was an exhausting experience that left 19 year-old me with a horrible-looking playoff beard, but a moment I have cherished since.
From 2013 to 2016, I worked with the radio company that is the flagship for the Penguins, working the board for games on ESPN Radio Pittsburgh, getting the chance to meet the personalities that made those broadcasts great and being able to celebrate a Stanley Cup title while working there made it even more special.
Better career opportunities have taken me away from Pittsburgh in the last seven years, but I’ve always tried to watch as many games I can. Try being the lone person in northwest Oklahoma trying not to wake up neighbors at my apartment when Chris Kunitz’s double overtime goal in Game 7 that sent the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup Final, on their way a to a second-consecutive championship.
I didn’t get to celebrate like I did the year prior on East Carson Street, but a small one took place in my apartment just days before my 28th birthday.
Since then, first round exits have been more common and lingering behind you are clichés like “the window is closing” when you know how this sport, and many others, work. Bad teams, which the Penguins were in 2005, can draft and develop, and in a few years time, can win a title.
But what comes up, must come down.
For many, the Pittsburgh decline has come much slower than the ones the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings saw after their championship eras.
Now, in April 2023, they come up short of keeping that postseason streak alive, and they only have themselves to blame.
But I will say it again. Thank you, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Thank you for reminding fans why this sports is great. Thank you for providing us with once-in-a-generation talent like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Thank you for doing your part to make Pittsburgh one of the best hockey markets in this league.
This offseason will be one of the toughest, and longest, seen in a while, but there will be a new season in October, with the hope of a new streak beginning.