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The Penguins Cannot Go Gently Into the Good Night

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Kris Letang (left) and Sidney Crosby (right). Pittsburgh Penguins
Kris Letang (left) and Sidney Crosby (right). Photo by Michael Miller. @PensRyourdaddy

In every offseason, there will be changes. With every team including Stanley Cup winners, there will be defections and replacements. The Pittsburgh Penguins accomplished something no team has done; they won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the salary cap era. In that feat lays a historical legacy which cannot be taken but if the Penguins are meekly swept by the New York Islanders, character questions will again arise around the team which finally laid to rest those dark doubts just a few years ago.

The Penguins cannot go gently into that good night.

The 2009 Stanley Cup was somewhat sullied by the following years of petulance and entitlement which came to a head and finally crashing down in the summer of 2014. The resurrection of the Penguins in 2016 and Shakespearean fourth act of their dynasty brought the prophetical multi-Cup success but it could also come with a negative chaser if they wimp out now.

To prevent the fifth act and conclusion of this dynasty from becoming a tragedy, they must rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Our apologies for mixing a Welsh poet with the Bard’s formula, but you get the point. The Penguins core includes three players with three championship rings who can exit the center stage with their heads held high. The Penguins team which still consists of a baker’s dozen of players with Stanley Cup rings can exit gracefully, upset by the scrappy New York Islanders if they show the championship grit and resilience which brought them accolades and parades.

With wins and pushback, the Penguins will find an easier path to continue their retooling which began this season with a stealth but quick infusion of youth including Jared McCann, Marcus Pettersson, Dominik Simon, Teddy Blueger, and even mid-20 somethings Nick Bjugstad and Erik Gudbranson.

If the Penguins pushback like wildmen who caught and sang the sun in flight, they will both show the respect to their legacy and avoid lingering questions surrounding who quit and who is committed to the next act.

Sidney Crosby is exempt from any questions, but few others share the same exemption if the Penguins are swept, including the remainder of the Penguins core. Old age should burn and rave at close of day.

The Penguins odds of coming back from 3-0 are so remote that only four teams in NHL history have done it. And certainly none those teams which rallied looked as defeated as did the Penguins at the end of Game 3.

The Penguins didn’t practice as scheduled Monday. There are just some things which can’t be practiced, such as patience and not passing to the other team. It just comes down to execution Tuesday. The Penguins must do the little and tough things or be embarrassingly swept.

And if the Penguins go gently into the good night, there will be questions about their character. Players will come under scrutiny. Those are not questions or stories I look forward to writing. In full disclosure, I began to admire the 2017 Penguins resilience and toughness. As they were tired, and taking a beating like Rocky in the early rounds of every movie, they managed to keep going.

If they lay down for the New York Islanders, questions will follow every player. Does he still want to win?

The 1991 and 1992 teams are remembered as much for the obtuse failure of 1993 and the gnawing question of what could have been. The Penguins core players who won the 2009 Stanley Cup were tarnished because of the years of failure and emotional fragility which followed.

And so, a little piece of the Penguins legacy is also on the line in Game 4. In 20 years, a bad loss or sweep to the Islanders will also be stapled to the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Another bad loss in Game 4 of Game 5 could and should turn some offseason changes into big offseason changes and the end of the era.

The Penguins cannot go gently into that good night.

 

*Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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