June 12th, 2009 and June 12th, 2016 are two distinctly different dates for the Pittsburgh Penguins. More than just the years separate them. Despite winning the Cup on the same day, each win was distinctly different than the other.
When Sidney Crosby lifted the Cup on June 12th, 2009 it was raised with the thought, the feeling, of “Finally!” The Penguins, having lost the year before, were where they belonged. The team of Crosby and Malkin, the team that was crowned the next dynasty before the two ever stepped skates on ice, had begun their ascent to the top of the NHL’s lore. It was theirs to lose and would be theirs for as long as they skated.
When Sidney Crosby lifted the Cup on June 12th, 2016 it was raised with the thought, the feeling, of “Finally!” The Penguins, having been lost for years, had finally returned to the top.
Along the way a sense of entitlement, both on the ice and in the stands, had been beaten away. Upset losses, collapses, continued and endless injuries, and stream after stream of criticism had sank expectations so low that the Penguins were thought to have had their window slammed shut.
The budding dynasty that should have been Pittsburgh, that should have been ours as we were owed these Cup wins, had not materialized. We were supposed to be there every year of the Crosby and Malkin era. That’s the way it had been so far. That’s the way it was supposed to be.
Instead Montreal happened. Instead concussions happened. Instead torn ACL’s happened. Instead Tampa happened. Instead Bylsma was fired. Instead Shero was fired. Instead Johnston was fired. Instead the team was lost. And as such all seemed lost.
Never had Crosby seemed so low. Never had Malkin seemed so out of himself. Never had this duo seemed so defeated. Never had the future looked so bleak. The feeling of “This is ours every year.” was gone. The sense of “We belong at the top.” was gone. The odds being in their favor were gone. Fans were slowly turning on the team, interest was waning, and the brand seemed at the era’s all time low.
Maybe that kick to the ego was what was needed.
The team found itself with a mixture of additions (Hagelin, Daley, Kessel), subtractions (Scuderi, Perron) and promotions (Sullivan). They found itself with a bunch of players on their second, and third, chances. They found themselves in discarded spare parts that were starving to win.
From there they found themselves Stanley Cup champions.
No longer did they feel they deserved to be there, at the top, lifting the Cup. Instead of felt they had to earn it, to fight for it, to demand it.
When Sidney Crosby lifted the Cup on June 12th, 2016, the Penguins earned their return to the top. And it made the victory all the more sweet.