Lemieux shares pain of vanquished Penguins

| Thursday, June 5, 2008

In his first public words of the postseason, Penguins majority co-owner Mario Lemieux emerged Wednesday night from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final feeling his players' pain -- and a little of his own.

"It's tough," Lemieux said following the Red Wings' 3-2, Cup-clinching victory at Mellon Arena. "Once you get there, you expect to win. I would love to be in their shoes to be able to come back the next year and have a chance at playing and play for the Stanley Cup.

"They're young, they're 19 , 20 , 21 years old. They have their whole life ahead of them, and this should be the best time of their lives.

"This was a great experience. It's disappointing, but we'll be back."

Should the Penguins make it back to a Cup final in subsequent seasons, it's very unlikely they'll get there with the current group still intact.

Among those scheduled to become unrestricted free agents July 1 are Pascal Dupuis, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Brooks Orpik and Gary Roberts.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will be a restricted free agent.

There's also the matter of negotiating long-term contract extensions for Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, potential developments that could impact the Penguins' ability to retain their unrestricted free agents.

"It's going to be tough," Lemieux said. "In the salary-cap era, you have to pick your poison. That's what we'll be discussing in the next few weeks, to see which direction we want to go. It's going to be very tough to keep everybody, but we have a core of guys, young guys who are going to be with us, hopefully for a long time.

"We just have to build around that."

The Penguins failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2005-06 and were eliminated in five games in the first round by Ottawa last season.

"We've come a long way in the last three years," Lemieux said. "Obviously, we had a rough time for a while, but this team has come a long way in a short period of time. With Sidney (Crosby), our leader, and Malkin playing so well throughout the year, and Staal and Fleury coming into his own, we have the core of young kids to be with us for a long time.

"We feel this is certainly a big step. It's always disappointing not to win in the final, but we feel we'll be back, and we'll be much better next time."

While understandably disappointed, Lemieux still expressed pride in the ride that landed the Penguins within two victories of the Stanley Cup.

"That's a great team over there," Lemieux said of the Red Wings. "You don't get to the final and finish first overall (in the regular season) for nothing.

"I'm very proud of our organization, not only the players but the coaching staff, (General Manager) Ray (Shero), the way he's built this team.

"Our fans have been tremendous all year, and that's the most important (thing). They've always been behind us since I've been here but, really, the last two or three years, it's been incredible here in Pittsburgh with our fans. I'm proud of the whole organization, for sure."

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