Apr. 2, 2008, marks a very significant date in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins. With a 4-2 victory over the Philidelphia Flyers, the Penguins locked up their first Atlantic Division title and set the stage for their epic run to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 14 years.
The Pittsburgh Penguins faced some tremendous adversity during the 2007-08 season and came within two wins of capturing their third Stanley Cup title. While the team fell short of their ultimate goal, there were several bright spots during the course of the campaign. Including their capture of the Atlantic Division title.
Here are a few reasons why they did just that.
Reversal of Fortunes
The Penguins record through mid-Nov. of 2007, was an underwhelming 8-11-2, but thanks to a 10-game point streak, which included victories in 8 consecutive games, the team was able to gain some traction in the standings. It marked the longest such streak in nearly a decade.
Pittsburgh’s record in Jan. and Feb. of 2008 was 16-6-5 and they capped off the campaign with a record of 10-4-1 in Mar.
Same as It Ever Was
The Penguins and injuries have always seemed to be synonymous with each other, and the 2007-08 season was no exception to the rule.
By the end of the regular season, Pittsburgh had accumulated 280 man-games lost to injury.
With the most notable injuries occurring to:
- Marc-Andre Fleury high-ankle sprain
- Sidney Crosby high-ankle sprain
- Gary Roberts Viral infection, broken left-fibula
With that caliber of talent out-of-action, the Penguins needed some players to step-up.
Steel City Line
With Crosby and Roberts out of the line-up, Evgeni Malkin took control of the team in the absence of their captain. During a game in early Jan. vs. Atlanta, Malkin was paired with Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone to form the “Steel City” line.
The name was derived from the time Malkin and Sykora spent together on Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League, and Malone’s Pittsburgh connection.
Malkin scored 46 points and the dominant performance of the line, helped the Penguins stay afloat while Crosby recovered.
On a side note, Malkin made his all-star game debut, when he replaced the injured Crosby.
Back to the Front
One of the best offseason moves general manager Ray Shero made was on July 19, 2007, when the Penguins signed free-agent goaltender Ty Conklin.
With Fleury missing a significant amount of time due to his injury, Pittsburgh needed some major help in net to supplement backup Dany Sabourin.
Conklin went 11-7 in 18 games played and a goals-against-average of 2.21 with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, prior to his call up to Pittsburgh.
It was his performance with the big club that kept the team strongly in the hunt post season blood. Conklin won his first 9 games and finished the regular season with a record of 18-8-5 and a GAA of 2.21.
Needless to say that without Conklin, Pittsburgh may not have claimed the division title. Conklin’s signing ranks as one of Shero’s best moves.
Let’s Go Pens
It goes without saying the impact that hometown fans can have on driving energy towards a team.
On the same night, the Penguins clinched the Atlantic Division title, they reached another franchise milestone.
For the first time in their 41-year history, Pittsburgh sold out all 41 of their home games.
The closest the team had come prior to 2007-08 season was when they sold out 34-of-40 games during the 1988-89 and 1989-1990 seasons.
It’s hard to believe that with all the hall-of-fame talent that cycled through Pittsburgh since Mario Lemieux joined the NHL, the team had not had any complete season sell-outs.
It just shows you how rabid Penguins fans had become since the Crosby era had been ushered in.
Do you have any memories from the Penguins drive to win the Atlantic Division title? Drop them below.