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Rossi: Appreciate Penguins' long-awaited return to Stanley Cup Final

| Friday, May 27, 2016, 12:26 a.m.

Matt Murray is so new to the Stanley Cup playoffs that he couldn't possibly grasp how hard it is to get where he's going.

There are a few days before the Stanley Cup Final. At some point, the club's rookie saver should pull aside the franchise's second savior and ask captain Sidney Crosby about the last seven years.

They were agonizing.

But late Thursday night inside the hockey house that stands because of Crosby's standing, perhaps all the agony made the moment all the sweeter.

How about it, Sid?

“It's not easy,” Crosby said after the Penguins finished the Eastern Conference finals with a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. “Having gone through a couple of those early on — you know, (being) 20, 21 years old and playing in the Final — I think you have more appreciation for it now.”

We all should have more appreciation for it.

Seven years after seeing the Penguins shock the defending-champion Detroit Red Wings and leave Joe Louis Arena with the Cup, there is a lesson to be learned from all the postseason heartbreaks that have soured Pittsburgh's springs.

Only takes four wins to claim the Cup.

A hard 12 are needed to play for it.

And there is no such thing as destiny.

Consol Energy Center, a building that was supposed to be “destiny's new home,” is finally getting the hockey games for which it was built. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — the been-a-while Penguins have drawn the never-been San Jose Sharks — is Monday night.

So if Thursday night was the greatest of the many great days for hockey in Pittsburgh, it won't hold that distinction for long.

And if the Penguins' holdovers from their last Cup victory were considered to have underachieved since becoming champions, they shouldn't carry that baggage any longer.

Crosby's Penguins just wrapped their fourth conference final since 2007. Only Jonathan Toews' Chicago Blackhawks have appeared in as many.

Evgeni Malkin's Penguins will play in their third Cup Final. No other Eastern Conference club has done better over the past decade.

Kris Letang's Penguins are going after their second title of the NHL's salary-cap era. They could pull even with Drew Doughty's Los Angeles Kings for the second most championships.

Add it up, and those Penguins have done pretty well even by our City of Champions' unreasonably all-or-nothing appreciation of the pro teams. If the Penguins' most unexpected run to the Final since the franchise's first in 1991 has taught Pittsburghers anything, it should be to appreciate what we've been watching.

“It's a tough league,” Letang said.

It's never been tougher. The cap that owners forced upon players has leveled the playing ice in the most obvious of ways.

It used to be that a star-studded cast such as ones the Penguins have been assembling guaranteed multiple championships and regular cracks at the Cup.

But the Penguins are one of six different franchises to represent the East in the Cup Final since 2010. Over that span, they have lost in the first round three times and reached the conference finals twice.

Going for the big prize again is, as winger Chris Kunitz said, “a heck of an accomplishment.” It's also a due reward for persevering through tough times.

There was Crosby's concussion saga that wiped out a couple of clubs under former general manager Ray Shero. There was the weird run of injuries that sabotaged current GM Jim Rutherford's first club.

There have been a couple of coaches fired. There had been three Game 7s lost in two buildings.

Even now, there is a franchise goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) backing up a rookie, and a bunch of kids who began this season in the AHL all but spearheading Sid the Kid's shot at bolstering his legendary resume.

One of Crosby's wingers is Conor Sheary. One of Malkin's is Bryan Rust. They, along with winger Tom Kuhnhackl and Murray, all were at one point minor leaguers.

Then again, so was coach Mike Sullivan.

Maybe new blood is what the Penguins needed. As Malkin noted, the young forwards brought “a little bit of speed.”

“They helped me to score,” Malkin said. “They helped me to win.”

All along, perhaps help is all that was really needed for Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kunitz and Fleury?

Or luck.

Whatever it was, these Penguins have it. They have something else, too.

“More to do,” Letang said.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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