It had been three years since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup. The NHL’s point leader Evgeni Malkin was on fire. Malkin’s line-mate James Neal was a 40 goal-scorer. Captain Sidney Crosby was a few games removed from his second return to the team after a neck tissue injury was finally diagnosed and healed. Center Jordan Staal was likely in his final year with the team. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was playing as well as any goalie in the National Hockey League and was nearly voted team MVP despite Evgeni Malkin’s 50 goal year. The Penguins were the Stanley Cup favorites. With league MVP Evgeni Malkin, 40 goal-scorer James Neal, a hot Marc-Andre Fleury, and the return of hockey’s greatest player, nothing could prevent the Penguins from accomplishing their dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
The Philadelphia Flyers turned Pittsburgh’s dream into a nightmare, eliminating the Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. The Flyers abused Pittsburgh’s defense and seemingly scored goals with ease. A superb Fleury in the regular season was a humiliation in the series loss to the Flyers. Claude Giroux sent the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins plunging onto the ice with a vehement check seconds before scoring the first goal in Game 6. The series was a mortification to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the city of Pittsburgh.
Saturday, January 19, when the NHL returns, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins will have an opportunity to avenge their playoff loss to the Flyers. The two teams will open their respective seasons against each other for the seventh time. Captain Sidney Crosby is as determined as he has ever been in his career. Reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin is already in game-mode after several months of play in Russia’s KHL league during the lockout. James Neal is ready to affirm, again, why he is The Real Deal. A perturbed defensive group will use their scorn for motivation. Marc-Andre Fleury seeks to prove he is better than his performance suggested in last season’s series loss to the Flyers.
It’s Flyers-Penguins. It’s Giroux-Crosby. It’s Laviolette-Bylsma. Hockey is back, and the Penguins have a glorious opportunity in front of them. They must seize the moment.