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Starkey: Gary Roberts knows: Winning's hard

| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 11:45 p.m.
The Penguins' Gary Roberts checks Detroit's Brian Rafalski into the boards during the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, May 28, 2008, at Mellon Arena.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Gary Roberts checks Detroit's Brian Rafalski into the boards during the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, May 28, 2008, at Mellon Arena.

Gary Roberts hasn't pulled on a Penguins sweater since 2008. He retired from the NHL in 2009. But he's still capable of delivering the kind of check everybody needs come playoff time.

A reality check.

Like most across the league, Roberts loved the Penguins' deadline acquisitions. He was one of those in 2006.

“Ray Shero once again finds a way to infuse his hockey club,” said Roberts, who runs a fitness center in Toronto. “He brings in guys who he believes are going to give him an edge in the playoffs.”

Roberts raves about Jarome Iginla, who would have been his teammate in Calgary if Roberts hadn't broken his neck in 1996. He remembers battling against the pit bull that is Brenden Morrow and the human washing machine that is Douglas Murray.

Can you imagine a collision between Murray and Roberts?

“Yeah, I remember lying down a lot after hitting him,” Roberts said. “Kind of like (Zdeno) Chara, you could take a 4x4 and hit him and I'm not sure you're going to move the guy.”

Jussi Jokinen is looking like a nice addition, too, but even if the Penguins return to full health in the playoffs, they face a long and arduous road. Talent and hard work might not be enough. They'll need luck, too.

The word “Cup” gets thrown around a lot in these parts. It's good to be reminded of just how hard it is to win one. It's good to have a healthy respect for the process.

Roberts certainly does.

“It's hard to win,” he said. “You look at the Penguins going to the Cup final and winning it the next year? That was incredible. Pittsburgh fans have been blessed. That's not the way it always is. I remember standing on the blue line in Calgary and winning a Stanley Cup. I was 23. I looked over at my buddy Joe Nieuwendyk and said, ‘Wow, that was easy. How many more of those are we gonna win?'

“At 23, it was like, hey, no big deal. But all of a sudden, just before my 43rd birthday, I retire — almost 20 years later — and with no more Stanley Cups. I think it hit me then, like, ‘Oh my gosh, my career's over, and I never won another Cup.' You appreciate it a heck of a lot more when you're sitting in my seat today.”

It's easy to forget the lesson most championship teams teach us: Luck is a critical factor. If you watched the recent ESPN documentary on the 1983 North Carolina State basketball team, you were reminded.

Forget the miracle play that won it. N.C. State wouldn't have been there if not for waves of good fortune along the way. Like its first-round game against Pepperdine, which was up six with a minute to go in overtime, with the ball.

Remember, there was no shot clock then. No 3-point line, either. N.C. State twice fouled Pepperdine's best player.

Then-Pepperdine coach Jim Harrick remembered: “They foul the all-time leading scorer in the history of Pepperdine, Dane Suttle, who was a four-year, 84-percent foul shooter — which you'd almost put your house on.”

Almost. Except Suttle missed the front end of two 1-and-1's.

Meanwhile, Root Sports is running a documentary called “The Save” — a reminder that the 1991 Penguins had the hockey gods on their side when Frank Pietrangelo miraculously stopped New Jersey's Peter Stastny shot toward an open net.

The 2009 Cup-winning Penguins could relate. Who knows what happens to them if Kris Letang doesn't bang a puck off a skate in overtime of Game 3 against the Capitals? Lose there, and the Penguins are down three games to none.

Nobody needs to tell the Penguins' new guys about the Cup's elusiveness. Including playoffs, Morrow, Murray, Iginla and Jokinen have combined for 3,318 games and zero rings.

How's that for a void?

“I think about it a lot,” Morrow said.

Iginla made it as far Game 7 of the Cup final in 2004. Morrow made it to overtime of Game 6 in 2000. Murray and Jokinen have never advanced beyond the conference finals.

Will this be the year for all four?


But Shero said it best the day he acquired Iginla: “This doesn't guarantee anything.”

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