Ten moments that defined Penguins’ season
By Chris Bradford, Times Sports Staff
But in the context of all that transpired this season from training camp in September to a winter wonderland in Buffalo to a crushing 3-2 loss in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings, it really wasn’t that predictable after all.
The Penguins chose a path less traveled to get to the final. They sustained injuries to many of their top players. They started slow out of the gate. They released one of their respected veteran leaders. And, they traded away one of their most popular players and a pair of No. 1 overall draft picks.
In the end, however, the Penguins were able to overcome all of those except the Red Wings.
In a season of so many great moments, and a few rough ones to be sure, it’s hard to whittle it down to just 10. But without further ado, here it is, the 10 defining moments of the 2007-08 Penguins …
10. RECCHI GOES SOUTH: On December 4, the Penguins released 18-year veteran Mark Recchi, one of the best players in franchise history. Recchi, who was in his third stint with Pittsburgh, had played in just 19 of the Penguins’ first 26 games of the season, scoring two goals and six assists. The Atlanta Thrashers picked up Recchi who showed he wasn’t quite done after all at age 40, scoring 40 points in 53 games.
9. A ‘SCARY’ MOMENT: Those who argue that fighting doesn’t have a place in hockey didn’t see the Penguins’ 8-2 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 11. The Flyers won the first three games of the eight-game series against their Keystone rivals but won just two of their next five against the Penguins. Why the turnaround? Gary Roberts. The 41-year-old beat the snot out of Flyers’ enforcer wannabe Ben Eager, 24, who was soon traded.
8. CONKS TO THE RESCUE: When goalie Marc-Andre Fleury hit a rut in the ice in Calgary on December 6 and missed the next 35 games, the Penguins at first turned to Dany Sabourin. When Sabourin went 3-4 in seven starts, coach Michel Therrien turned to 30-year-old journeyman Ty Conklin. Therrien was rewarded as Conklin went on to win his first nine starts and was second in the NHL with a .923 save percentage.
7. OH, WHAT A NIGHT: OK, it wasn’t late December back in ’63, but it was in late November (22nd) of 2007. The Penguins, who lost in five games in the first round of the playoffs the previous spring to Ottawa, erased a pair of two-goal deficits to defeat the Senators 6-5 at Scotiabank Place with Jarkko Ruutu scoring the winner in the shootout. It was the Penguins’ 22nd game of the regular season but just ninth win and turning point.
6. A CLASSIC IN BUFFALO: In what was the most watched regular-season game in seven years and the most highly-attended game in NHL history, the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres staged an outdoor game at snowy Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. The Penguins won the game 2-1 in a shootout with Sidney Crosby (who else?) scoring the winner after deking Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and scoring on his forehand.
5. GAME 5, ENOUGH SAID: Those who saw it won’t soon forget the Penguins’ tightrope act in the fifth game of the Cup Final at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. Ryan Malone and Sergei Gonchar became Pittsburgh legends as ‘Bugsy’ took a puck to the face and returned, while ‘Sarge’ made a Kirk Gibson-esque return to the game to quarterback the power play that yielded Petr Sykora’s game-winner in triple OT. All that, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 55 saves in, easily, the best game of his career.
4. INJURIES, INJURIES, INJURIES: The 2007-2008 season was the year of the high ankle sprain as far as the Penguins were concerned. It’s not a contagious ailment, but it seemed that way for a while. Those afflicted by the injury included Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Maxime Tablot and Gary Roberts. Others to miss significant time due to various injuries included Mark Eaton (knee) and Adam Hall (sports hernia).
3. HOSSA ARRIVES: As the NHL trade deadline approached at 3 p.m. on Feb. 26, Penguins general manager Ray Shero pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that brought Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis, who would join Sidney Crosby to makeup the top line, to Pittsburgh. Though the trio was slow to develop due to injuries, Hossa and Crosby appeared to finally gel seamlessly in the Stanley Cup Final.
2. GENO GOES LOCO: When Sidney Crosby went down with a high ankle sprain in January, Malkin stepped up his game and propelled the Penguins to the top of the Atlantic Division. The Russian superstar scored 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in the 28 games Crosby was shelved. That stretch helped catapult Malkin into MVP consideration and sparked a debate as to whether he, not Crosby, was the Penguins’ best player.
1. EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS: By dispatching the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers over just 14 games in the first three rounds, the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 16 years. Though the Penguins lost to Detroit in six games in the fourth-round, they will almost certainly enter next season as favorites to come out of the East again.