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Kingerski: ‘Felt Like 20,000,’ Yes, Penguins Fans Can Make a Difference

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Pittsburgh Penguins fans
PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 02: Fans celebrate after a Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Bryan Rust (17) goal during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers on March 2, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

Sometimes the postgame stories and the full PHN+ report card are not enough to touch on every topic. Sometimes, the (usual) seven minutes with Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan isn’t enough to get to every topic, especially after a game with so many special moments in the Penguins 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

But there was one sustained moment that will define the Penguins game on March 2, 2021.

It began when Jeff Jimmerson sang the national anthem at the Penguins game. LIVE. When the fans in the visitors’ corner yelled “let’s go Pens” during the anthem, everything felt right (and that smacked me right in the feels).

After their 5-2 win, the Pittsburgh Penguins received a standing ovation from 2800 fans who mostly stayed until the end. And the Penguins saluted them in return.

Note to fans and team: Make this part of the Penguins culture from both sides. It was amazing how much the simple inclusion of fans helped the Penguins team on the ice.

“It was exciting to know our first game back with fans was at home. It’s special. It helped us a lot,” Tristan Jarry said. “It helped us with momentum swings. Some of those games when there are no fans, it’s kind of back and forth. You don’t really catch any momentum. It helps us having the fans, especially in Pittsburgh, with the great fans we have. It helps us a lot.”

Yep, this writer runs afoul of the purified Twitter crowd when criticizing the thousands of fans who bolt for the exits with far too much hockey remaining.

Last night, the few lucky souls who were first in line for tickets both got a special treat and delivered the same back. It was a communal reaction from players and fans, a pure postgame ovation.

Perhaps the time apart gave each side an appreciation for the other. One that we long ago took for granted.

Kasperi Kapanen was a rocket on Tuesday. He scored two goals and was otherwise a force.

“It was unbelievable. It’s been a while since we played in front of fans, and there were only 2800. It felt like there were 20,000,” Kasperi Kapanen said.

In addition to playing like an Indy car on rocket fuel as they raced up the ice with several textbook tic-tac-toe goals more reminiscent of the early 21st century Detroit Red Wings, the Penguins played a hard, gritty and physical game.

Perhaps the intensity created that moment. Perhaps the moment created the intensity. But it was there. The Penguins dished 30 hits, and while there wasn’t a big knockout blow, there were many impactful slams in the corners and at the blue line.

“It was exciting to know our first game back with fans was at home. It’s special. It helped us a lot,” Tristan Jarry said. “It helped us with momentum swings. Some of those games when there are no fans, it’s kind of back and forth. You don’t really catch any momentum. It helps us having the fans, especially in Pittsburgh, with the great fans we have. It helps us a lot.”

Can Pittsburgh Penguins fans make a difference? Yep. And so often, you have. Who hasn’t seen the 2009 video during a TV timeout when the fans shook the old Civic Arena for a full five minutes after Jordan Staal’s shorthanded goal.

 

That crowd noise and unbridled passion for the team is the Penguins fans’ legacy. YOUR legacy. I covered that game as a member of the national media, and to a person, they all turned to each other to say — “I’ve never heard anything like this,” but there were a lot of hand gestures because we couldn’t hear the person next to us.

Fans picked up the team. The team picked up the fans. The resulting explosion was unforgettable.

That relationship has waned after a few Stanley Cups and ticket prices out of reach for many 20-somethings, except for special occasions (no more $20 student rush ticket, eh?).

Players are just as likely to be vilified as praised, including organization stalwarts who wear three rings.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Penguins fans to bring it back. Maybe, just maybe, this year of isolation has brought an appreciation for so many things we’ve done without—players for the fans and fans for the players.

The Carolina Hurricanes rode a storm surge of fandom and communion to a pair of playoff runs in recent seasons. It helps.

And maybe, just maybe, when those crazies in the upper deck start yelling, “Let’s go Pens,” it becomes part of the loud encouragement and support of a fanbase and part of the reciprocal culture that once defined Penguins fans before expectation replaced appreciation, criticism replaced encouragement.

Remember going crazy for Evgeni Malkin’s parents when he was in a slump? It’s a lot to ask. It’s a different world. Players and fans are on Twitter, which becomes real life, vitriol, stupidity, and all.

But for one night, 2800 seemed like 20,000 and the team played one of its best games of the season.

Now, just imagine what 20,000 Pittsburgh Penguins fans can do.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Cal
Cal
4 months ago

Good article!

ErieOttersFan
ErieOttersFan
4 months ago

Hey Dan,
You know, it was really cool for those of us watching from afar as well. Seeing some “happy humans” in the seats jumping and chanting and screaming (just like my boys and I do from the sofa) felt like…I don’t know, like a plate home-made pierogi. Cheers!

D1VE is Dumb
D1VE is Dumb
4 months ago

Great article Dan! Hopefully Katz reads it and is able to digest the meaning of it.

Bill L
Bill L
4 months ago

It was fantastic seeing people in attendance. I wish I could’ve been there. It is LOOOOOOONG overdue.

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