The Penguins locker room was a jovial scene of relief and eagerness. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have played as much or more hockey over the past two years than any team in history. They said goodbye to dear friends like Matt Cullen and Marc-Andre Fleury. They struggled. They struggled to care. And, at times they struggled to care about struggling.
In the end, the Penguins pulled it together. They clinched second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now worked the room in the final postgame locker room session of the regular season. Evgeni Malkin was in rare form. He teasingly yelled to reporters that he didn’t have to talk but kept talking anyway. He didn’t as much on the record as he did over the record.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Patric Hornqvist about his recent run, 11 goals in 14 games, but before he could answer Malkin bellowed, “Because he played with 71!”
Sidney Crosby also offered to hold reporters microphones. When asked if playing all 82 games was special, because he had never done it before…he didn’t know he hadn’t:
“Really? Geez. I had 81 a couple times, right,” Crosby asked. “I must have just gave those to myself as 82’s.”
It was that kind of night in the Penguins locker room.
Starting goaltender Casey DeSmith beamed, as he typically does, but this time with very good reason. DeSmith was given a start in an important game. DeSmith showed his rookie status when he did his postgame interview…with his helmet on.
“I hit the panic button, for sure. I went back into the tunnel looking for (Penguins reporter Dan) Potash, thinking he was in here but he was out there. So, in the heat of the moment, I just didn’t think to take my helmet off. I hope everybody could hear me,” laughed DeSmith.
Schultz couldn’t wait to go home and get sleep…so he could watch the Masters all day Saturday.
Schultz put it best, “We’re looking forward to the fun part of the season.”
The defenseman had no idea–none–that he helped set the Penguins single-season mark for power-play success rate. The Penguins finished at 26.2 percent which broke the 1995-96 team’s mark of 26 percent.
Schultz’ reaction was at first clueless, then amused before he turned to athlete cliche number one, “we’re just trying to help the team win.”
Pittsburgh Hockey Now did turn serious and ask Schultz if he felt the Penguins had dialed it in. His answer wasn’t the most reassuring. His voice got a little high-pitched and he didn’t really say yes.
“Yeah, I mean we have some days of practice here but I thought we were playing pretty well. (We had) a huge road win in Columbus. I think this team’s at its best when the stakes are the highest and we’re in playoff hockey.”
In other words, they played better but they haven’t hit the turbo-boosters yet.
Letang missed the Stanley Cup run due to injury last season. He is looking forward to his turn.
“Everything I had to watch,” Letang said with a somewhat side smile denoting acceptance but momentarily reliving the frustration. “It’s very motivating for me.”
And that may be the quote which gives Penguins fans the most hope.