Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang on Friday had an eloquent way of describing the team’s core players and their approach as they enter the 2021 playoffs seeking their fourth Stanley Cup together.
Letang, 34, and centers Sidney Crosby, 33, and Evgeni Malkin, 34, are the drivers of the club, which opens its 15th consecutive appearance in the postseason with Game 1 against the New York Islanders at home on Sunday afternoon.
“Do we think about our age and the fact that it’s one more chance? Yes, of course,” Letang said after the Penguins practiced at PPG Paints Arena.
“But I think as a hockey player, every time you enter that dance for the playoffs, it’s a chance and you might not see another one, so you have to treat it like it’s the last one.”
That dance. Cool wording, eh?
Not to mention the implied promise to chase a long playoff run, chase the giant chalice, with everything he’s got.
Crosby earlier this week spoke of “cherishing every opportunity” when it comes time for the playoffs.
That hunger could be heightened by the fact the Penguins have lost nine of their past 10 playoff games, having bowed out early the past two seasons – being swept by the Islanders in the first round in 2019 and falling to Montreal in the qualifying round last year in the COVID-19 “bubble.”
For Letang, who turned 34 just a few weeks ago, there is also something to be said for wisdom coming with age. And not just the knowledge that he has a lot more years behind him than ahead of him as an NHL player.
His first experience in the NHL playoffs came in 2008, when he was 21 and the Penguins went from finishing second-to-last in the league standings and Crosby’s rookie season in 2005-06 to falling to Ottawa in the first round in 2007 to advancing to the Stanley Cup final before falling to Detroit.
Letang played 16 postseason games in 2008, then played in 23 the next year as the Penguins had a rematch with Detroit and this time won the Cup.
Now he has played in 136 career playoff games, with 21 goals and 80 points.
The emotions have evolved.
“It’s a different type of excitement,” Letang said. “In 2008 I didn’t really know what to expect going out there. I knew the level of the game and the tempo was going to be really high. So I was maybe a little bit more nervous.
“Now I think I’m excited. I know the playoffs bring the best out of everybody. It’s an exciting time of the year to play hockey.”
Letang also has learned to listen to his gut about the Penguins’ chances.
While the team is ready to go dancing, his gut is doing some singing.
“Looking at our team this year, the season we had, with the injuries and guys stepping up and bringing a different level to their game, the addition of (Jeff Carter), it’s been a big push,” he said.
“Sometimes you have that feeling inside you, like this year is a good year. We have a good team.”