After two weeks of unending national praise for the Nashville Predators fans, it was the Penguins faithful who witnessed a few tears, so many uncontrollable smiles, hugs, the Stanley Cup, and it was the Penguins faithful who were the last to rock the Bridgestone Arena. The Penguins overcame staggering injuries, unfavorable matchups, and in the end, they survived a hostile building as Patric Hornqvist‘s shot caromed off the back of Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne in the final two minutes. The Penguins became the 2017 Stanley Cup Champions.
As players began to head for the celebration inside the locker room, the original cornerstone of this dynasty, Marc-Andre Fleury sensed the finality. After several minutes of media interviews, tears rushed to his eyes. In a few steps, he was gone. His iconic number 29 jersey faded into the darkness of the tunnel as a few hundred Penguins fans roared their approval and sought a final moment with “the flower”.
It was most likely the final time we’ll see Fleury on the ice as a Penguin. In an interesting twist, Fleury was drafted #1 overall by the Penguins in the 2003 draft held in…Nashville. And he walked off the ice, holding his daughter, for the final time a Pittsburgh Penguin in…Nashville. Fleury again fulfilled a promise long ago made by then-General Manager Craig Patrick that Fleury would be the core piece of a Stanley Cup champion.
These Pittsburgh Penguins could not have won this Stanley Cup without Fleury. He knew it, too. Fleury told 93-7 the Fan, he focused on the first three rounds when holding the Cup. Fleury didn’t hide his disappointment with not getting to be the goalie in net for the final game, but this year he took a good skate with the Cup. There was no sheepishness. He earned it. Just as he earned the adoration of the fans chanting his name as he left the ice.
There are few human beings in sports as good as Fleury. There are few goalies in the NHL as good Fleury, too. Some team, Calgary, Vegas, or a wild card suitor will have a gem with something to prove, next season.
While Fleury understood the sadness of goodbye, Matt Cullen seemed to understand the immortality of winning and mortality of being 40 years old. Cullen beamed brightly, answering the same question over and over without actually answering it. He’ll likely retire, but…he too got one more moment in the spotlight. Three Stanley Cups.
That should impress the boys enough to let dad ride off into the sunset; his actual children and the boys in the locker room. Cullen promised to sit down and reflect about his future, after this is all over. But he sure had the look of a satisfied player who has not only crossed the finish line this season, but his own personal finish line.
Ian Cole told 93-7 the Fan and Swedish TV that Hornqvist is “the craziest son of a gun…but in the best way possible”.
Conor Sheary said Hornqvist’s emotions were so high, he had trouble going out for his next shift. A fact Hornqvist didn’t dispute. Hornqvist played his first five seasons in Nashville, and its still a special place to him.
Hornqvist admitted he was nearly overcome with emotion until Carl Hagelin put the puck into the empty Nashville net. Then, it was a celebration.
Nashville & Luke Bryan
Ridiculous. Luke Bryan, from his rooftop concert perch led the chant–“Crosby is a sissy, Crosby is a sissy…”
So the NHL hired act, on its biggest stage, led the worst possible chant against the NHL’s biggest player. Yeah, consider me disgusted by it. Nashville was loud. Nashville was engaged. But no one actually bothered to ask that Nashville have some respect for hockey. Or others.
Nashville behaved like spoiled children. Lots of noise. Lots of enthusiasm when things were going well. But no respect or interest in anything but themselves. No, you cannot count me as a fan of “Smashville,” at least until they appreciate hockey, too.
And if it took Luke Bryan a few years to figure out icing and offsides, perhaps he should keep his opinions about Crosby under his hat. And maybe perform a song more complex than “Put your hands up”.
In our rush to welcome Nashville into the hockey community, we forgot to ask if they liked hockey. I still don’t know the answer. But I do know…that was embarrassing. And the NHL should be ashamed.
More later. We’ll examine Mike Sullivan, Crosby, Malkin, but…it’s time to hit the road.