Speedsters

Carl Hagelin, left, and Phil Kessell, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, cheer with fans during the team’s Stanley Cup Parade, Wednesday in downtown Pittsburgh. The duo’s speed, along with linemate Nick Bonino, helped set the pace for the Penguins, and, eventually, led the team to its fourth Stanley Cup. 

Exactly seven years earlier, to the day, he did it for the first time.

And now, Sidney Crosby, once again, accepted Lord Stanley’s Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and hoisted it above his head.

In between victory parades, the Penguins have had three head coaches, two general managers, and cycled numerous players through the starting lineup. The Western Conference has dominated the league in the years since, with the Boston Bruins being the only Eastern Conference team to claim the Cup in between its trips to Pittsburgh.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have basically alternated Cup titles since the Pens claimed it in ’09, with the Bruins tossing their championship clinch in the middle of it.

The Western Conference has been viewed as the bigger, more physical conference, as of the last few years, and this strategy of team makeup has given the west success in recent years.

But this year, the Penguins found the perfect element to down the big, physical west: speed. The Penguins once again proved the old adage “you can’t hit what you can’t see.”

This team speed the Penguins boasted became very apparent in the first round of the postseason, against the New York Rangers. The Rangers could just not keep up from the Game 1, and it only became more visible as the series wore on.

The first matchup the Penguins faced against a more physical team was the Washington Capitals. The Caps were the best team in the league in the regular season, and were the favorite to capture the Cup coming into the playoffs.

Once the Penguins arrived on their doorstep for round two, it was quickly apparent the Capitals season dominance would soon come to an end. There were a couple games when the Penguins just didn’t play to potential, but even then they were difficult for the Caps to handle.

The Eastern Conference Final was a different story: speed vs. speed. The Penguins skill and quickness prevailed though, and they were then tasked with squaring up with the heavyweight champion arising from the west, the San Jose Sharks. 

The series was predicted by most to be a tight series — with a number of analysts favoring the Sharks to display their dominance over the Penguins. That never really happened, though.

Instead, Bryan Rust happened.

Then, Connor Sheary happened.

Then, Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, and Sidney Crosby all happened. These Penguins speedsters buzzed around the ice, and the Sharks for that matter, like water bugs zipping around on the surface.

The Sharks may have won two games in the series — and may have pushed two games to overtime — but that makes it sound closer than it really was. 

If not for Sharks’ goalie Martin Jones standing on his head and stopping shot after shot the Penguins pelted him with, the series could have been shortened by at least one game. The Penguins landed 67 more shots on goal than the Sharks (206 to 139) in just six games.

Meanwhile, the towering physiques of Sharks players, like Brent Burns, “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, and Patrick Marleau, had little physical impact on the ice. When they did get into the face of their opponents with solid hits, or post-whistle skirmishes, all the Penguins players just skated away.

No one lost discipline and took unneeded, selfish penalties, which is key to the style of play Mike Sullivan’s Penguins wanted to, and did, utilize to win.

The NHL, just like every other sports league, is a copycat one. Pittsburgh has once again set the blueprint for victory. 

This recipe for success is pretty simple: toss some speed and skill together, add a little grit and a lot of discipline. Mix thoroughly, for roughly 100 games, and out comes a Stanley Cup.

Easy enough. 

The only problem for following this recipe, is that not every team has access to the tools. Few teams can group multiple superstars in Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, a world class goal scorer in Phil Kessel, and legs that can skate faster than any other player on the planet, in Carl Hagelin, all together.

Sure, the Penguins showed the whole league exactly what is needed to capture Lord Stanley’s Cup, but that doesn’t mean anyone else can duplicate it.

 

Ernecoff is a graduate of Titusville High School, currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also an avid Pittsburgh sports fan. 

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