I need a moment, away from the parodies of Flyers fans, the BTM sightings, or any other cheap laugh.
The Penguins are going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Our Pittsburgh Penguins, one year removed from a gut-check of a loss in the opening round of the playoffs, now stand 4 wins from hoisting Lord Stanley. I've yet to let that fully sink in,
I'll turn 24 years old in under 3 months. I can't be foolish enough to make you believe that I saw the Steel Curtain firsthand. Hell, I come from a generation after the "We Are Family" Buccos, and my best memories of our out-of-luck baseball team include a slide by a guy who used to wear black and gold before breaking the heart of every Pirates fan on a Barry Bonds throw home.
But with the Pens, something special happens. I find myself thinking back to the Cup days of the early 90s. How excited and fortunate I was to watch Lemieux and Jagr...on the same team. Two superstars united with one goal in mind, the Stanley Cup. I remember the games against the North Stars and Blackhawks. I can nearly name, from memory and almost in order, the players on the Stanley Cup Championship plaques that hang in my aunt's den.
Through the recent losing seasons, Lemieux's retirement, Jagr's trade, I would take myself back to the good times, desperately clinging to the pride of winning back-to-back Cups. With the Steelers and Buccos, I could only liken to moderate successes. Playoff appearances, short winning streaks...but no championship. The Steelers finally got their one for the thumb, but I couldn't relate that to any personal memory.
As we wait for our opponent, be it Dallas or Detroit, I have, as anyone in my age group or older, a connection made between this group of young Penguins and the champions of the past. The bridge had been built, but never finished. '92 seems like yesterday, and forever ago. It was the beginning of innumerable Cups. Jagr and Lemieux would hoist the trophy 10 more times, it would seem. But the sport is fickle.
16 years later, and we're back. Should it have taken this long? Does the wait make it this much sweeter?
Do any of those questions matter at this point?
Teams hope and pray and bargain with the devil to have everything line up at the perfect time. Free agent puzzle pieces. A white-hot goaltender. Young leaders capable of dishing AND scoring. Defense. More defense.
As I write this, the feeling starts to sink in more than when I began. I'm writing about the Stanley Cup. Its a highly plausible goal. We fought the best the Eastern Conference had to give for the right to TRY for the Cup.
Now all we need is 4 games of our hockey.
Those champions from my memories played their hockey, and were rewarded with their names forever etched on the Cup. Let's hope the connection remains true, and that this version of the team finds similar results.