I usually try to keep myself out of these blog posts, but this is one of the rare times.
Of all three professional franchises in Pittsburgh, the one that I have personally had the most joy watching growing up has been the Penguins.
Somehow, in a city that is dominated by the craziness of football, hockey was my first love before football. I don't know why, but it just was (by the way, I love football in the same capacity).
I was born in June 1989. My earliest memories of the Pittsburgh Penguins come from the 1995-96 sesaon. That was also the time I started playing ice hockey. Learning the fundamentals during early Saturday morning stick times at Bladerunners Ice Complex in Warrendale (The highest level I reached was junior varsity hockey in high school before I realized I was more of a defensive lineman than a left winger).
The Penguins 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup years were presented to me in two VHS tapes my grandmother had. 'One From the Heart' and 'Against the Odds.' I watched those so much as a kid, I'm surprised I didn't destroy the tape. They might be the reason why I still keep a VCR in the house. Also, I never returned the tape to my grandma. Sorry, Grandma.
My adolescent years came at a time when the Penguins were bankrupt and possibly on the move. I was in attendance for Game 6 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Semifinals, when the Maple Leafs closed out the series with a game winning goal in overtime. It was hard for my 9-year old self to understand that I could have just watched the last NHL game in Pittsburgh that night. Of course, that never happened thanks to Lemieux.
My parents became season ticket holders during the 2001-2002 season. The season that started a streak of losing ones leading up to the 2004 lockout. We sat in the final row in F18 at Mellon Arena. Unlike the sellout crowds you see today, there would be about 8,000 or so in the stands, and the Steve McKenna lead Penguins were not great, but it was fun.
My all-time favorite memory had to be Game 6 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. Now sitting in C12, I couldn't help but look around at the 17,132 fans wearing white chanting 'Let's Go Pens.' The loudest I will probably ever hear that chant. Probably the proudest I've ever been as a fan of the team and the game of hockey.
Those early years of Crosby, Fleury and Malkin were some of the best. Much like the Columbus Blue Jackets are right now, the Penguins were a care free team on the rise, breathing new life into hockey in Pittsburgh and never once have I ever had the desire to leave early to beat the traffic. It has been a decade of nothing but good things for this team.
But since that Stanley Cup win 2009, it just hasn't been the same. Expectations are higher, and attitudes are different.
Nothing stays the same. So many things have changed for the franchise in the last ten years.
A collective bargaining agreement made it that the Penguins and other teams could keep talent. After a long battle, Mario Lemieux finally got the Penguins a new arena, and with a 30 year lease, the first sense of stability ever for a franchise that could have folded or relocated several times in its first 40 years.
Perhaps it's just me being 24, somewhat jaded and cynical about the world, and feeling like the Penguins hockey I've enjoyed for most of my life has been lost. I also work in Pittsburgh sports radio with the company that has the Penguins radio network, so I've seen and heard more about the team than ever before.
The faces around my section at Consol Energy Center have changed since the move over from Mellon Arena. The past few years has brought on a crowd that demands a win every night and a title every season and gets bitter every year it fails to come to fruition. I do not want to say they do not understand hockey, but a few bad apples can spoil the bunch.
Much of what I remembered and loved a lot about Penguins hockey is gone.
John Barbero, the old public address announcer, passed away in 2010. The Consol Energy Center will never be as loud as the Civic Arena used to be, and that feeling that I once had during the 2008 Stanley Cup Final has not returned since.
It is also hard to watch this season as players are on pins and needles, and a coach knows he's on the hot seat if they fall short at any point during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
I would kill to have that feeling again as a hockey fan. Mainly because it's been so long, I've forgotten how it feels these past few seasons.
When there's not enough time to write a blog post on everything that happened, it's time to turn to "Three Quick Things." So put down the Peeps and chocolate bunnies and read.
3. Seabrook's hit on Backes
Brent Seabrook's shoulder to the head of David Backes was worthy of a 5 minute penalty and an ejection late in the third period of Game 2 between the Blackhawks and Blues.
That hit has lead to a three game suspension for Seabrook.
The Blackhawks are in a bad place right now.
They've blown late third period leads in the first two games and went on to lose in overtime in both matchups. They are in a 2-0 hole going back to Chicago. In a matter of two games, they have lost one of their key defensemen, their coach, Joel Quenneville, was fined $25,000 for grabbing his privates during overtime in Game 1. What made it worse: we all saw Quenneville do it live on television.
2. Brewers-Pirates Easter Brawl
It is safe to say that the Brew Crew is rejoining the high ranks of the National League Central in the first month of the season.
Carlos Gomez, the Brewers center fielder, who is known for his showboating and bat flipping, hit a two out triple in the third inning, while doing a home strut the first 90 feet before the ball just reached the wall in deep center as Andrew McCutchen misplayed it.
The Pirates young pitcher, Gerrit Cole, took offense to Gomez's show. Words were said, and while it seemed liked both made their points, Gomez lashed out toward Cole and lead to a bench clearing brawl in Pittsburgh.
Gomez, as well as Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, who was not in the lineup and went after Gomez as the benches cleared, were ejected.
Milwaukee backup catcher, Martin Maldonado, threw a punch that hit Snider. Like Snider, Maldonado was not in the lineup for Sunday. You'll hear about it at about 3:30 of the video below. Chances are, he gets a punishment worse than what Gomez might see.
Few things to take away from this.
Gomez is a punk. He's a good ballplayer, but does too much showboating. He did something similar on a home run last season in Atlanta. The Braves infielders were furious and let him know as he trotted around the bases. Then catcher Brian McCann confronted Gomez a few feet before the plate, refusing to let him cross, which lead to the benches clearing.
Second, Gerrit Cole provoked Gomez. Trash talk happens in every sport, and Cole got his point across, and Gomez didn't like it, wielding his helmet toward Cole while being restrained. Call Cole immature, but he wasn't the one charging Gomez.
Finally, the rivalry feel between these two teams is back.
The Brewers have their big hitter, and baseball's biggest villain since Barry Bonds, Ryan Braun, back after a season suspension. They want to compete with the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds for the top spot in the division, and much like Cincinnati, there's no love lost between them and the Pirates. Russell Martin made that clear in his quote regarding Maldano's punch, which was tweeted by Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The Pirates are 1-6 this season against the Brewers. It might take more than a few bean ball's and fisticuffs to improve that record.
1. The Penguins Playoff Predicament
The Pittsburgh Penguins did everything right when they came back from a two goal deficit in Game 1 to beat the Blue Jackets 4-3. They did everything wrong to protect a two goal lead in Game 2, as they lost 4-3 in double overtime Saturday night.
There is a lot to ponder about the Penguins game 2 performance. The gamble of putting four forwards out on a power play that could've given the Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead in the second period, that, much like Game 1, lead to a mishandled puck on the point and a shorthanded goal for Columbus that made it 3-2. After that, everything changed.
The Blue Jackets controlled the play. After being outshot 14-5 in the first period, they outshot Pittsburgh 41-27 the rest of the way. Add to this that they also outhit the Penguins 51-28, and were 2 for 6 on the power play while the Penguins were only 1 for 8, while giving up the shorthanded goal as well.
Speaking of penalties, Kris Letang, who took a stupid interference call at 11:33 of third period in Game 1 when the Penguins lead 4-3, apparently did not learn his lesson. What felt like a replay of Wednesday, Letang took another unnecessary interference call at 13:31, just as a Scuderi tripping penalty was about to expire. This time, Pittsburgh paid for Letang's mistake and the Blue Jackets got the game-tying power play goal, which sent it to overtime.
Letang is not a lone scapegoat, because his other fellow defensemen have looked awful during the first two games.
Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik looked lost in the early parts of Game 1. Rob Scuderi, who was brought back to Pittsburgh to provide the veteran leadership he brought five years ago when they won the Stanley Cup, has not been good at all, and Letang, well, you already know.
Marc-Andre Fleury, the man who was everyone's biggest concern coming into the playoffs, has been one of the better players through the first two games. He did not get any help from his fellow teammates in double overtime Saturday night, when Matt Calvert was all alone to put in a rebound while four of his teammates stood still as if time had stopped.
Young Brian Gibbons provided a spark in the second half of Game 1 as he joined the first line, and got the Pens going with the opening goal and a shorthanded goal in Game 2, before leaving with a shoulder injury. Other than that, key forwards like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been invisible.
You can say that the Penguins are not taking the Blue Jackets lightly. They are just being outplayed by Columbus.
A Hollywood Moment In Anaheim
Southern California is known for making movies. There was a Hollywood-like end for Teemu Selanne, and an old teammate who was on the opposing teams bench.
Sunday night in Anaheim was Selanne's night. The 43-year-old, who began his career in 1991 with the old Winnipeg Jets, was named captain for the game in his last regular season game in the NHL. The Ducks are in the playoffs, so we will see Selanne for at least four more games.
While it was his night, Selanne took his final lap with an old teammate. Avalanche goaltender, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, was a part of the Ducks 2007 Stanley Cup team with Selanne and is most likely going to wrap up his career after being a backup this season for Colorado. Much like Selanne starting in the league with the Jets, Giguere started as a Hartford Whaler. Another team that relocated in the mid-90s.
It is one of those great moments in sports that make us step back and understand what the game means to players like Selanne and Giguere.
Selanne is one of the most liked players in the NHL. Including Giguere in his farewell lap just proves that point. Knowing that his former teammate was a major part of Anaheim's Stanley Cup runs in 2003 and 2007, and that he too might call it a career, why not take the lap together and let the fans at the Honda Center say goodbye to him as well?
A moment that Selanne came up with before Hollywood did.
The sequel to this great moment would be Selanne raising the Stanley Cup in June.