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Delighted Pens hungry for start of NHL games

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 3:58 p.m.
The Penguins celebrate Steve Sullivan's second period goal against the Flyers in game four during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Wells Fargo Center April 18, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Hockey fans threw themselves a festival early Sunday morning when news broke that the 113-day NHL lockout was over.

NHL players joined them.

Many Penguins players repeatedly said all they wanted to do was play. Now they have their chance.

“If you ask Sidney Crosby,” Penguins right wing Pascal Dupuis said, “he will tell you that 13 is not a lucky number. Maybe this will change his mind.”

The lockout ended on its 113th day on the sixth day of 2013.

Crosby didn't have superstition on his mind. Instead, he was consumed by a sense of joy.

“Just so happy,” Crosby said early Sunday morning. “So, so happy.”

Most of the Penguins keep in regular contact with union representative Craig Adams, but few were aware that the deal would be struck in the wee hours Sunday morning.

They received a pleasant surprise when the news jolted the hockey world.

“I didn't think it would be that quick, but that's because I never even thought they'd do a 16-hour run,” said left wing Matt Cooke, who was referring to the 16-hour negotiating session that ultimately settled the lockout.

“We knew what took so long. Every time we suggested what is really close to the terms of this deal, owners just wanted out of the room. They just ended talks because there was no pressure.”

Come the first week of January, there was pressure.

Many of the Penguins used the word “embarrassing” during the lockout. Now that it is resolved, many are feeling relief.

“What a senseless thing it would have been to miss a season,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

The start to the abbreviated season is coming quickly and this will be a season unlike any that the current group of Penguins has experienced. Training camp will run only a couple of days, and no preseason games will be played.

Crosby loves playing a few preseason games to get his timing down, but he won't have that luxury.

“Things might be a little sloppy at first,” Crosby said with a laugh. “Guys are definitely going to have to adjust to that.”

Conditioning shouldn't be a problem for the Penguins. Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Tanner Glass and Dustin Jeffrey — along with defenseman Deryk Engelland — have spent significant time playing overseas during the lockout. A number of other Penguins — including Crosby, Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Tyler Kennedy, Cooke, Joe Vitale, Adams, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy — have been regulars at Southpointe, holding informal workouts four days a week.

Eric Tangradi and Simon Despres, youngsters who could make the team, have been playing at Wilkes-Barre.

“Now that things are back to normal, I'm starting to get butterflies,” Tangradi said. “I know there is a lot of work to put in, but I'm excited.”

He isn't the only one.

“We know the whole hockey world is excited that we're back to playing,” Dupuis said. “We are excited, too.”

The Penguins also are motivated, the six-game loss to the Flyers in the first round of last season's playoffs still fresh in their minds.

Crosby said another such result “can't happen again.”

“We're ready to go,” Niskanen said. “And we're hungry for wins.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com and on Twitter at @joshyohe_Trib.

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