Sports Hockey


Powerhouse Penguins still searching for 2nd Stanley Cup of Crosby era

By Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun

Sidney Crosby, who is now in his eighth NHL season, has one Stanley Cup ring (2009). (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

Sidney Crosby, who is now in his eighth NHL season, has one Stanley Cup ring (2009). (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)


When a euphoric Sidney Crosby skated around the ice surface at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena with the Stanley Cup hoisted high over his head on a steamy June evening in 2009, the expectation was that the game's most skilled performer would have the opportunity to smear his fingerprints all over hockey's Holy Grail on many more occasions moving forward.

So much for that theory.

Truth be told, Crosby's mitts have yet to coddle Lord Stanley's battered beaker in the ensuing five years since that memorable day in Motown. And to many observers, not to mention the loyal puckheads in Pittsburgh, it is a headscratcher.

This is a team with the game's best player in Crosby and a top-five talent, when healthy, in Evgeni Malkin.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. General manager Ray Shero has been pro-active in providing his Dynamic Duo with one of the top supporting casts in the game.

Prominent names such as Jarome Iginla, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Sergei Gonchar, Bill Guerin, Alex Goligoski, Ruslan Fedotenko, Kris Letang, Brenden Morrow, Alex Kovalev, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury have all worn Penguins black-and-gold since that '09 Cup triumph. And yet, in the ensuing years since No. 87 sipped from the Cup, he has not had the opportunity to do it again.

Here's one way to put that into perspective.

Since 2010, Crosby has won two Olympic gold medals, including the one four years ago in which he sent this entire country into a frenzy with his Golden Goal in the title game against American Ryan Miller.

In that same period, he has captured zero Stanley Cups. He and the Penguins haven't even made it to the final again.

Keep in mind that the Olympics are every four years.

The Stanley Cup, meanwhile, is awarded every year.

Did we mention the term "headscratching?" We did? Good.

Because it fits.

Indeed, almost every time the playoffs roll around, the Penguins are considered one of the favourites. And every time all is said and done, they underachieve.

Keeping that in mind, the Sun asked Crosby, now already in his ninth season, if he expected to own more than one Stanley Cup ring at this point in his career, especially with the influx of talent Shero constantly is attempting to surround him with.

"I didn't really think that far ahead, to be honest with you," said Crosby, whose Penguins host the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first-round opener on Wednesday.

"When you haven't won one, your goal is to win one. I think that's pretty obvious. Everyone wants to do that. After that, you want to win one every year. You work as hard as you can to do that. You want to do whatever you can to help your team. As a team, that's the expectation.

"It's not as easy as you are saying it. But it's definitely been the goal."

A goal that has not been achieved in almost half a decade.

Consider this: In their respective careers, David Bolland's name appears on the Stanley Cup more times (two) than Sidney Crosby's (one).

Yet, whether it's because Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't stop a beach ball against the Flyers two years ago or Pittsburgh's high-powered offence firing blanks against the Bruins last spring, this much we do know: The Penguins have continued, in the minds of many, to underachieve once the post-season rolls around.

Having said that, Crosby said championship dry spell doesn't provide him with additional motivation. According to Sid the Kid, just being in the playoffs should pump you up enough.

"I don't think it's made me hungrier," Crosby said. "I don't know if there's a limit on that. To measure that would be kind of wrong.

"I think every year I have that same desperation, that understanding. It's not easy to get into the playoffs. When you do, there's an understanding that you are getting an opportunity a lot of other teams are not getting. A lot of teams are watching that time of year so when you are in there it's a matter of making the most of your opportunity.

"I think you try to learn from your experience whether it's good or bad. Hopefully, we can take some good lessons from last year."

Easier said than done, isn't it? After all, how many positives can there be after being swept by the Bruins last spring.

"I think the playoffs are tight-checking so, defensively, you have to be good," Crosby said. "But you have to have timely goals, you have to have big plays.

"That really showed (last year). I think three of the games are really tight. The difference between the teams was really tight. You need those big plays at the right moment."

Plays that the Pens will be looking to make starting Wednesday against Columbus, the potential first step in what Crosby hopes will be a journey that ends with his fingerprints all over the Stanley Cup again.


Five Penguins Question Marks

1) F Evgeni Malkin

One of the elite superstars in the NHL, he has absorbed more than his share of bumps and bruises this season, causing him to miss about a quarter of the Penguins games. Having injured his foot during a March 23 game against the St. Louis Blues, Malkin participated in his first full practice on Tuesday since suffering the ailment. Even if he returns for Game 1, how long will it take him to get up to full speed?

2) D Kris Letang

While it was encouraging to see Letang return to the lineup last weekend, what kind of mental and physical shape will the gifted blueliner be in after suffering a stroke at the young age of 26, causing him to sit out for 10 weeks?

3) G Marc-Andre Fleury

His issues are more mental than physical. Wobbly performances in recent playoffs have caused Pens fans to lose confidence in the veteran goalie. Do his teammates harbour the same concerns?

4) D Paul Martin

Another centrepiece of the Penguins blueline, Martin broke his hand while representing the U.S. in Sochi and missed 18 games, finally returning to the Pittsburgh lineup on April 3. After being out that long, how much rust - if any - will he still have entering the postseason?

5) F James Neal

When he hasn’t been banged up, poor decision-making left Neal with a five-game suspension and, several months later, a $5,000 US fine for his over-the line actions. Can he keep his temper in check and his body in one piece long enough to be a key offensive cog in the Penguins Stanley Cup aspirations.


Sidney Crosby is a big believer in Flower Power.

Despite some truly horrible playoff performances by Marc-Andre Fleury in recent times, the beleaguered goalie has received a ringing endorsement from Sid the Kid heading into the Penguins' playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Asked by the Sun if the Pens have confidence in Fleury as the Stanley Cup tournament approaches, Crosby pointed to his buddy's impressive regular-season stats in 2013-14.

"Sure. The way he's played all year, the adversity the team has had all year, with the injuries and all that stuff, he's been really solid and provided a lot for our team all the way through," Crosby said.

"When your goalie is playing like that, staying calm, it's contagious."

Fleury won 39 games for the Penguins this season, sporting a 2.37 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.


When it was determined that the Penguins and Jackets would clash in the first round, Columbus defenceman Jack Johnson received a text message.

"Hey, we're going to see a lot of each other. Good luck!" it said.

The sender?

Sidney Crosby.

Johnson and Crosby, you see, have been buddies for 12 years. They first met around 2002 when both were 10th-graders at Shattuck-St. Mary's School, a private school in Minnesota.

Three years later, they were front and centre once again, with Crosby going No. 1 overall to the Penguins and Johnson No. 3 to the Los Angeles Kings.

"We knew it was going to happen eventually," Johnson told the Columbus Dispatch when asked about facing each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"We've competed in so many things. We'd work out in the summer, and it was always who could lift more or run faster. Everything was a competition for us, in a good way. So I guess it only makes sense that we're in the Stanley Cup playoffs together.

"This is going to be fun, and I hope it's the first of many."

Interestingly, there is a very good chance that Johnson is assigned to shadow Sid the Kid, a daunting task indeed.

That's what the Stanley Cup playoffs do -- turn friends into foes.


Will the Penguins contend for the Cup this year?

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