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Steigerwald: Staying Healthy and Hungry the Keys to a Penguins Three-Peat

Mike Sullivan. Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Three-peat?

Why not?

The Penguins’ attempt to win three consecutive Stanley Cups is just beginning. Can they do it? Of course they can for a very simple reason. They’re the best team in the National Hockey League.

On paper.

That could change before the week is out if one or two stars are injured enough to be out for several months.

But that may not matter if the guys who are hurt make it back in time for the playoffs in April.

The Penguins could have major injury problems and finish as the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and still win the Cup.

I’ve never believed that, in sports, whatever happened last year or the last five years has anything to do with what happens this year. Three-peating isn’t hard because winning three Cups in a row is hard. It’s hard because winning one Cup is hard and your chances of winning aren’t increased by the fact that you won the last two. But, they’re not decreased, either.

This Penguins team will win games based on its ability to stay healthy and stay hungry.

Hungry won’t be a problem with this group. If anything, the chance to win three in a row will make it hungrier than it was to go back-to-back.

Healthy is a crap shoot.

If I remember correctly, the Penguins’ chances of going back-to-back ended last year when Kris Letang went out for the season. I think the consensus was that he was their most indispensable player.

Look how close the Penguins came to not repeating. Double overtime in Game 7 against Ottawa. One bounce of the puck could have changed everything.

The New York Islanders were the last team to win three Stanley Cups in a row. That happened in 1982-the year before they won their fourth in a row.

And it was the Penguins who came within one bounce of the puck of stopping the streak at two.

I was at the Nassau County Coliseum that night.

The place had been nicknamed Fort Never Lose. The Islanders had gone 54-16 that season and 23-2 in their last 25 home games in the regular season.

They won the first two games of the five-game series by a combined score of 15-3. The Penguins’ owner, Edward DeBartolo, was so embarrassed that he offered refunds to the fans who had bought tickets for Games 3 and 4 at Civic Arena.

Only a few hundred people took him up on the offer and the Penguins won both games, including one in overtime.

Three-peat looked like a no-go for the Islanders when the Penguins went up 3-1 in Game 5. Bryan Trottier took a dive and got a call and a power play and the Islanders cut it to 3-2.

Michel Dion started standing on his head in goal in Game 3 for the Penguins and was still doing it late in Game 5. With a little under 2:30 to go in regulation, Randy Carlyle went back to pick up an easy puck behind the Penguins net and somehow it bounced off the back boards and over his stick and came to John Tonelli parked in front. He beat Dion to tie it and the Penguins lost it in overtime.

If not for one bad bounce the Penguins probably would have pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NHL history.

That’s how close the Islanders came to stopping at two in a row. That tough series had nothing to do with the Cups that the Islanders won in 1980 and 1981 and everything to do with Eddie Johnston doing a great coaching job, tremendous goaltending and the Penguins playing out of their minds.

The Islanders ended up four-peating–an amazing and too often overlooked accomplishment. They won 19 consecutive playoff series. No team in any sport has matched that.

And that one bounce over Carlyle’s stick…

The 1993 Penguins were a better team than the 1991 and 1992 teams that won Cups but Mario Lemieux was playing at about 60% because of a bad back and Kevin Stevens smashed his face on the ice and they were bounced by the Islanders.

The Steelers best team was probably the 1976 team sandwiched in between the four Super Bowl winners.

It gave up 28 points in it’s last 9 games. Yep. About three points a game.

They blew out the Baltimore Colts in the first round of the playoffs but their two 1000-yard rushers, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleieir were hurt and couldn’t play against the Oakland Raiders the next week.

No three-peat.

Not because some strange force caused by winning two Super Bowls in a row came over them. Because two of their most important players couldn’t play.

The 2017-18 Penguins start the season with a different team than the one that went back-to-back back in June, but you would have a hard time coming up with a team that has a better chance of winning this year’s Stanley Cup. What happened the last two Junes will have nothing to do with it.

Drop the puck.

Kenna James at Blush
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bill from Behind Enemy Lines in Baltimore

    October 4, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Great column, John.

    Here’s another one for you ….

    Ask most Pirates players, and they’d tell you that the 1972 team was much better than the ’71 version that beat the Orioles.

    Blass had an ERA of like 2.48 and won 19 games. Briles, I believe, won 14 games. Giusti and Hernandez were superb in the bullpen. Clemente was hurt but still hit .312.

    Stargell hit 33 homers and drove in 112 runs.

    Then came the playoffs.

    Game 1 was all Buccos …Blass was brilliant.

    But there was that Bob Moose wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 …

    The Pirates were winning that game …

    But as you say … there’s just that ONE bounce …

  2. John

    October 5, 2017 at 4:20 am

    I’ll never forget the puck jumping over Carlyle’s stick. The Islanders had a knack for winning games like that during their 80’s dynasty. I’ve lost count how many games Johnny Tonelli and Mike Bossy either tied games or won games. I’m hoping the Pens win three Cups in a row. It would be outstanding for the city and the hockey team. Sid, Malkin, Kessel, etc would be legends for life here as well as the other players.

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