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Cup Chronicles: Kevin Stevens

| Sunday, May 15, 2011

At 25, Kevin Stevens was a brash, young power forward for the Penguins in the 1990-91 season.

So, it didn't surprise many teammates when he guaranteed the Penguins — trailing 2-0 after losing twice in Boston — would eliminate the Bruins in the Wales Conference finals.

"I was mad more than anything," Stevens said recently. "I just said we were going to win the next four. I just knew we could beat them. I knew we were going to beat them. It's just a matter of proving to your teammates, and I said it. I didn't mean for everybody, the whole world to hear it, but I guess it got blown up like that."

Stevens led the way, with four goals in the next three games, as the Penguins dumped Boston and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final against Minnesota.

Much like he had in the Bruins series, Stevens played a significant role for the Penguins in the regular season, especially at the beginning when Mario Lemieux was out for the first 50 games.

Stevens teamed with good friends John Cullen and Mark Recchi to form the "Option Line," as all three were in the final years of their contract.

"We really were a pack," he said. "So, I think we all tried to get the most out of each other."

The line clicked, with all three players near the top of the point standings for much of the season. The trio was selected for the All-Star game, a first for all three.

Stevens finished with 40 goals and 46 assists in the regular season, and he added 17 goals and 16 assists in 24 postseason games.

That playoff success came despite a broken nose suffered in the first game of the Patrick Division semifinals.

"I just remember going in and having the doc pull my nose over," he said. "Then, they put the shield on, and that was the worst thing ever because they were putting their gloves in my face, and I couldn't get it out. ... I only used the shield for half a period, and then I took it off because of that reason. I couldn't get away from them. They stick hands in the shield, and you can't pull away or you rip your nose off."

q&A with kevin stevens

On the Penguins' Stanley Cup potential:

Our first year was one of those years where we obviously felt we had a lot of talent. But I don't know if any of us knew we could win a Stanley Cup. We felt we had talent, and we had a lot of good players. It was just a matter of how we were going to be playing when it came time in April to get on that two-month run starting to win the Stanley Cup. It's a hard thing to win. It's one of those things where you never know exactly how well you're going to be playing and how your team is going to come together. I think that team came together at the right time, and we were playing well going into April. From there, we kind of rode the wave, you get confidence in everybody, and you hope that everybody's playing well. Guys got hurt, guys came in and played well. It was just one of those seasons that worked out perfectly. We had great goaltending. You never know at the beginning of the year. Everybody thinks they can win. Everybody always thinks that they have a good enough team to win the Stanley Cup. I believe everyone has a chance, but who knows what's going to happen in April?

On Bob Johnson:

He brought in a lot of positives to our locker room. He made us believe we had a chance to win. He's that type of coach. He's an old-school coach, one of those guys that really made you believe and feel positive about your team. I think that he definitely was a big key in how we played.

On stepping up in the absence of Mario Lemieux:

We had Johnny Cullen that year. We traded Cully, and he was probably one of our best players, if not the best player. He really helped us get to where we got. I think he had 100 points that year. We had a lot of guys chipping in offensively. We definitely needed Mario to get back. He's one of those guys that's a difference maker every night. He was a guy that we were looking forward to getting healthy and getting back to playing with us. We had a lot of guys chip in and play well at that time.

On what made the "Option Line" — Stevens, John Cullen and Mark Recchi — click:

We were all good buddies. I think the thing with that line, we played together on the ice, but we all lived together off the ice. ... We weren't afraid to tell each other what was wrong, what we were doing wrong, and I think that helped. We were all really good friends off the ice, and it helped us on the ice. We ended up having a big year. ... I just think it had to do with the friendship we had between us and how we pushed each other to be the best players that we could be. I think, in the locker room, John, Mark and myself, we kind of put that pressure on ourselves.

On being in the option year of his contract:

All that stuff would take care of itself. We didn't really, back then, money wasn't like it is now, where you're making, if we had a 100-point year back then, right now we'd be making six or seven million dollars a year, you know• Back then, the money wasn't like that. It was more of a game, we were more of a team, we stuck together, we played together. I think it wasn't as much of a business. It's such a business right now. Back then, it wasn't like that. It was more, we came together, and whatever happened, happened. We went out and played hard, did the best you could do to help the team, and I think it wasn't as much like it is now, where it's all business; it was more of a team game where things took care of themselves.

On how the trade for Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings helped the Penguins:

It's one of those things. Craig Patrick seemed to pull the trigger at the right time. We were struggling. I think we came off a West Coast trip where I think we lost six games in a row, and I think Craig was trying to figure out what to do, and that's when he made the trade to get Ronnie and Ulfie and Grant Jennings there. When that trade happened, it really helped build the confidence of the team. It gave us depth. It gave us Ronnie, who was a great two-way player. And Ulfie was one of those shut-down defensemen who would do anything to help the team win. I think when we got back and made the trade, and obviously Cully was one of our better friends. You hate to see that happen. But I think our team came together. But bringing in such great players, Hall of Fame players, they knew how to win. We would find a way to win, and we had different guys chip in in different areas, and everybody knew their job. I think that led us into the playoffs and carried us through it. It was a lot of breaks to win that Stanley Cup. It's not easy to win a Cup, and you need breaks, you need a lot, and I think we had all of that.

On bringing in veteran players who had won the Stanley Cup before:

I think that helps. Trots was towards the end of his career, and he was playing a different role than he did with the Islanders when he had all that (success). He had a lot of leadership. He always found a way to help us win and what we needed to get to that next level. Even a guy like (Jiri) Hrdina got a couple of big goals when we needed it. They just seemed to fit. Guys just fit in. We had great chemistry, a great bunch of guys. You always remember that team for just the guys we had and all the fun we had playing together as a unit.

On Jaromir Jagr:

I think he had 19, 20 goals. He didn't score a ton of goals the first year, but he had highlight film goals. He tended to get big goals for us. He always had a lot of energy. He had the young legs. He was a strong, strong skater and had all the moves. You saw the next 15, 20 years how he played in the NHL. It's just a matter of you could see he was one of those gifted players. Another great draft by Craig (Patrick) and a guy that came in and got some big goals for us in the playoffs.

On postgame workouts (which weren't normal in that era):

I think we all followed Paul (Coffey)'s lead there. He brought that working out, and we did what we needed to do to be prepared to play the next game. When you're playing every other night, you have to get treatment, you have to work out. I think we had good leadership, and we went and did all that stuff. I think guys just kind of followed each other. We didn't really know what we were doing, but we did it. We saw the veteran guys go in there, so we all kind of followed in their footsteps, and I think that helped. That was something that I had no idea what to do. We just kind of followed in their footsteps.

On playing in his first All-Star game:

It was great. We were able to go as a line, we were together. I think (Mike) Milbury was the coach and took all three of us, and we were surprised that all three of us were going, but it was great. It was fun, and we were together, and it made it that much better. I think we all needed each other to be good players. We kind of fed off each other and played that way. We all helped each other play hard.

On hearing John Cullen had been traded:

It was shocking. I lived with Cully, so it was one of those things that was (shocking). Obviously, it wasn't something we wanted. When you have guys like that, you want to keep them all, try to win a Cup with (him). But I think it's definitely the nature of the beast. It's a business, and we needed to get better. Cully gave us back a lot. He was a great player, and we made the move. But it's never fun when your friend gets traded, but that's just part of the game.

On a fluky goal vs. the New York Rangers that clinched a playoff spot for the Penguins:

That's just one of those ones where I'm dumping the puck in, and (John) Vanbiesbrouck went to stop it and play it behind the net, and he kind of caught it, and he puts it in his own net from behind the net. He was facing the opposite direction, and he went to catch it. ... It was a big goal at the time. It's one of those things you need, to get the lucky breaks. And we got a couple on the way.

On scoring 17 goals in the playoffs:

I was scoring a lot of goals, but I was playing with great players, just following the play. I don't know. They just kept going in.

On his netfront presence:

I played down low in front of the net. But back then, there was a lot of grabbing and poking and punching and holding. It was a different game than it is now. Whatever I had to do to get away, that's what I was doing.

On Frank Pietrangelo's save:

I thought it was in the net. When you're looking from the bench, it looks like it's in the net. That was one of those things you remember as long as you live. I can see it like it was yesterday. It was a great save. Obviously, he got in a position to get his glove there and make a great save. For us to win the Stanley Cup, he had to come in and play great. That's the only way you can win Cups, if you get guys chipping in all different places. Goaltenders coming in, defenseman stepping in. Whatever it took to win, we had it.

On making his guarantee after losing the first two games in Boston:

But I knew we were coming home. I knew we'd win the home games. Then, we came into Game 5 in Boston, and we blew them out that night, so it was good. It was something that I think we all kind of grew on and kind of like propelled us to win. We had a great team. I just felt we were going to beat Boston. I wanted to beat them bad, and we were lucky enough that it worked out.

On the video of Stevens and Bryan Trottier heckling Minnesota's Brian Bellows:

We were just having fun. That's a part of the game. Bellows is a great player, and we were just trying to heckle him a little bit to see if we could get him off his game. You know, whatever it took to win hockey games, we tried to do it. That was just part of the game back then. We were just trying to give him the business a little because he could score goals.

I can't blame it on Trots. As luck had it, I was sitting next to him, he was just chirping in there every little bit. We were kind of in it together. Probably not the first time we did it.

We had a lot of good trash talkers. But that was the game back then. I think there was trash talking on every team. It was a different game, more of a team game. It's still great right now, the playoffs are great, but it was just a different game then. I think it's more of a business now.

On when he realized the Penguins were going to win the Stanley Cup:

I guess 6-0, I thought we had a good chance, they weren't going to come back. We came out hard that night. Minnesota was a tough place to play; they had great fans. We got a lot of breaks early, we got some goals from working hard. It kind of worked out in our favor. It was a good way to put a cap on a great year.

On the unusual nature of an 8-0 win:

Nobody ever thought it was going to be 8-0. That was a big win for us. We had no idea we were going to stomp them that bad. They were a great team.

On rumors of the North Stars planning parade routes and Stanley Cup ring sizes:

I think you hear that from everybody. You hear it all the time. It gets blown out of proportion. They might have thought they were going to win, but we thought we were going to win, too. To me, it wasn't a big part of anything. We were lucky enough to stop that parade, I guess.

On winning the Stanley Cup:

It's so hard to win the Stanley Cup, two months of hard, hard work. A lot of ups, a lot of downs, a lot of bruises, a lot of cuts, a lot of everything. It's just one of those things that was a lot of fun, and we had a great time doing it. But it's a hard, hard thing to win.

Additional Information:

Kevin Stevens

ACQUIRED: Sept. 9, 1983 • Los Angeles trades Stevens' rights for F Anders Hakansson.

PENGUINS DEBUT: March 1, 1988, vs. Minnesota

PENGUINS 1990-91 STATS: 80 games, 40 goals, 46 assists, 86 points, 133 PIM

PENGUINS CAREER STATS: 522 games, 260 goals, 295 assists, 555 points, 1,048 PIM

WHAT HE'S UP TO NOW: Professional scout for the Penguins, based out of Boston

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