So this moment wasn’t within the last 15 years. But you know what, this is a blog about the Penguins and we’d be remiss if we didn’t include it. It’s close enough!!!
The Cup wins officially made this town a hockey town. Since the 1970s, Pittsburghers have expected greatness from the Steelers and Pirates. Countless championships led to this city being named the ‘City of Champions.’
Hockey was always on the back burner. The Penguins, at times, fielded a competitive team and gained interest in the 1970s. They reached the playoffs in 1970, 1972 and 1975 — where they became one of the only clubs in any sport to ever build a 3-0 series lead and lose, 4-3 (sigh). The beginning of the 1980s was rather successful as well, but from 1983-1989 the franchise missed the playoffs every year.
That drought diverted fans to the Steelers and Pirates, which were all enjoying success. In 1984 Mario Lemieux was drafted and things started to change. Just his name brought people to the arena to watch the team.
Still, wins were hard to come by. The aura of a superstar player only lasts for so long. But eventually the team improved, and after four years Pittsburgh was in the playoffs in the 1988-89 season.
Two years later, the Stanley Cup made it’s first appearance in the Steel City.
The first cup run started before the season began, with the drafting of Czech winger Jaromir Jagr in the 1990 NHL Draft. Craig Patrick also traded the second-round pick of that draft to Calgary for Joe Mullen — one of the greatest American-born hockey players to ever play the game.
Then on March 4, 1991 — one of the biggest days in franchise history — Patrick dealt John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski to the Hartford Walers in return for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings. The three new Penguins were the final pieces to the championship puzzle.
All along the way, the Penguins were mostly without the services of Lemieux. The Pens captain had a herniated disk in his back that led to further complications. He missed a total of 50 games in the regular season.
The Penguins finished the season as Patrick Division Champions and went in to the playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind Boston. Lemieux was back in action by then and led his team through the playoffs.
The drive to the finals wasn’t easy … it never is. The first round was a 7-game battle against New Jersey, with the Penguins closing it out on home ice and moving to the second round to play Washington.
The Penguins vs. Capitals was a precursor to many more meetings between the two teams in the decade, with a familiar result. The Penguins took care of business against the Caps, winning in five. It set up a heavyweight Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins.
The Penguins won in six games, but by no means did it come easy. Pittsburgh fell behind 2-games-to-none after opening the series in Boston. The Bruins won by scores of 6-3 and 5-4 in OT.
When the series shifted back to Pittsburgh the tide changed. The Penguins won a pivotal Game 3, 4-1, and Game 2 by the same mark. Going back to Boston, the winner was going to take all the momentum. It just so happened to be the Penguins in dominating fashion, 7-2. The Pens won Game 6, 5-3, setting up a Stanley Cup Finals against the Minnesota North Stars.
And to be honest, nothing can explain it better than this …
Going in to the 1992 expectations were high. Scotty Bowman, who had won 5 Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, stepped in as the Penguins head coach after Bob Johnson was diagnosed with brain cancer. The season was dedicated to him and, to start, the Penguins honored him well.
However, the Penguins fell to .500 with about 1/4 of the season to go, suffering through injury problems to Lemieux.
As was the case the year before, Craig Patrick made moves to put the team in a position to succeed. Trades before the deadline brought Rick Tocchet and Ken Wregget to the team as the Pens finished the year on a 12-5-1 streak.
The Penguins finished 3rd in the Patrick Division with 87 points, trailing the Capitals (98) and the Rangers (105). It placed them 4th in the Eastern Conference.
Once again, the Pens and Capitals faced one another. And once again, the Penguins won — this time in 7 games. Washington jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Pens bounced back to outscore the Caps 14-7 in the final three games — all wins.
Pittsburgh moved on to play New York in the 2nd round and, again, fell behind early in the series. The Rangers took two of the first three games of the series. However, as was the theme of the season, the Pens rebounded and beat the Rangers in 6 games.
The Eastern Conference Finals pitted the Penguins against The Bruins again. And that’s where our narrator takes over once again …
Chris | PPT