June 05, 2008
Hey, remember these? In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we're bound to lose some friends along the journey. Gone but not forgotten, we've asked for these losers to be eulogized by the people who knew the teams best: The fans who hated them the most. Here is Matt P. from the Philadelphia Flyers site The 700 Level recalling the 2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins.
"The Penguins were a good hockey team, and good men. They were men who liked the outdoors... and hockey. And as skaters they explored the rinks of Western Pennsylvania, from East Allegheny to the [Vegas] Golden Triangle, and, up to Bloomfield.
They died - they died, as so many teams in the 2008 playoffs have, before their time. In your wisdom, Lord Stanley, you took them, as you took so many bright, flowering young men - Montreal... New York... Philadelphia. These young men gave their lives, and so did the Pens.
And so, Pittsburgh Penguins, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Monongahela River, which you loved so well..."
The Penguins lived fast and dangerous, and they met an unfortunate end befitting their ways. It may be painful to dwell on it here during this somber occasion, but perhaps we all may learn from the mistakes of fallen stars. These men ... they attempted to choose their own fate, yet not always in the noblest of manners.
I'm reminded of a night, what seems like forever ago, on the eve of the playoffs, when Michel Therrien decided to play God and handpick the Penguins' opponent. On April 6th in Philly, the white hot and white jerseyed Pens decided that rather than try to win and capture a conference title, as heroes would have done, they pulled up their horses, "rested" their young and healthy on-ice leader, and they were blanked, 2-0. Win, and they'd play those same Flyers in round one. Lose, and it's a creampuff match up with the free-falling Senators, a team playing as poorly as any in the league.
At the time, some thought it a shrewd move, as the Flyers had played the Pens tough all season, and win or lose, the Pens would be hurting after a best of seven series with Philly. The Sens on the other hand would be just a speed bump, a warm up on the way to Things Remembered. But would Ottawa be too soft, too little a test of the Pens mettle? Perhaps...
Predictably, the Penguins dropped the Senators, then tore through the Rangers, and even defeated the brave and noble heroic manly warrior Flyers. When the Eastern Conference Finals were through, the Pittsburgh was clearly the best in show. Yet few outside of Yinzerville picked them to hoist 34.5 pounds of silver/nickel glory in June. The Detroit Red Wings, a battle-tested, experienced group of Western warriors, awaited them in the next round.
The reality check was fast and forceful, and the Pens came crashing down in the first two games of the finals. The bad karma of a white-out at home (when the visiting team is the one wearing white) would come to fruition. Sidney Crosby was shown to be a leader only when the odds are in his side's favor, rather than when he is needed most. The answer to the question "What Would Gary Roberts Do?" was "Punch an unsuspecting, concussed star player in the head from behind." Jesus and Chuck Norris expressed their disappointment.
Even after this last event, Coach Therrien would mourn that his opponents were not playing fairly, that his team deserved to be handed better. Pittsburgh was once again trying to elude predestination by disowning their own talented nature in favor of playing a lesser game.
But the hockey gods were not fooled, and their vengeance was devastating. Maybe, just maybe, if the Pens had played the hand they were dealt by attempting to win every game in their power, instead of asking for cherry-picked cards and choosing not to win, they might have been more battle-tested when it counted. Once in the Finals, if they'd focused solely on what got them there (balanced scoring and stalwart defense), they might have been champions for the first time since Mario rocked a gelled mullet.
Instead of playing Disappearing With the Stars, they might have been defiling the Cup by throwing it in their pools or taking it to Scores.
On Wednesday, June 5th, the Penguins met their fate at the hands of a superior team, a group of men more prepared than they were to offer the ultimate sacrifice for their cause. Boys were separated from men, and the Penguins are now laid to rest.
If I seem callous toward our fallen heroes, I can't apologize. I never liked 'em anyway. There, I said it. You probably didn't either. It's cathartic to admit it, and take a belt of Jameson on the occasion of their wake. We can only hope to learn from their strengths, but also their tragic flaws.
"Good night, sweet princes..."