As an American society, in all facets of life, we seem to always want a feel-good story. The American Dream of course, is to come from nothing to something, and to make a name for oneself. This is especially true when it comes to sports. Many examples have even turned into movies, including “Radio”, “The Miracle On Ice”, “Secretariat”, and “Rudy”… The 2010 United States team in the World Cup and a team like Virginia Commonwealth University are other examples where people didn’t expect the teams to do anything, but when they started winning, the fans started rooting for them to keep it up. Does the concept of “us against the world” make teams want it more? What if the team is an upper echelon team that loses a few superstars, and then is expected to just throw in the towel, but keeps winning, shocking the league? I think you know where I’m going with this.
As of print, the Pittsburgh Penguins are only 2 points behind the Filth-adelphia, I mean, Philadelphia Flyers, for the lead in not only the Division, but also the Conference. While they have one more meeting left this season when they play on Tuesday, Penguins fans shouldn’t be expecting them to take over the top spot, nor would it be a huge deal if they did or didn’t. Currently in fourth place in the Conference, the Penguins would face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today, a matchup that is a great one if you are a Pittsburgh fan. With 96 points in tow, many would think the Penguins would be struggling for a playoff spot at this point after all of the injuries the team has accrued. Early in the season it was Jordan Staal and Mike Comrie. Then came the injuries to Mark Letestu and Sidney Crosby. Chris Kunitz, Eric Tangradi, Aaron Asham, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and now Dustin Jeffrey are other players who have missed significant time this season due to injury. Throw in Matt Cooke with his suspensions, and things get even more dire for the Penguins. Even with Malkin and Cooke being the only players that we know for sure will be out for the remainder of the season and post-season, how have the Pens done it?
Players accepting new roles – such as Tyler Kennedy and Kunitz taking over the scoring, Kris Letang becoming more defensive-minded, and Ben Lovejoy and Zbynek Michalek becoming more offensive-minded – have helped get this team into their current position. I personally can find it more enjoyable to root for this team, or any team that we expect to falter. These Penguins have won these games with grit, determination and defense. Marc-Andre Fleury has had the best season of his career and should be included in MVP talks. While we would definitely want players like Crosby and Malkin in the lineup to make the team that much better, there is nothing quite like the underdog story. While deadline acquisitions James Neal, Alex Kovalev, and Matt Niskanen haven’t lit up the scoreboard, they have all played extremely well since arriving in Pittsburgh.
With the current roster that the Penguins have, I can see them winning one or maybe two Stanley Cup Playoff series, which would make for a great story and season. If they Penguins didn’t make it to at least the Conference finals with their complete cadre of superstars in the lineup, then it would be seen as a disappointment. It is still uncertain if Crosby will play again this season, though he did have a 45-minute skating session yesterday, the longest since he has stepped back on the ice. Personally, I would sit Crosby for the rest of the season, including the playoffs. The argument to this is, if he is medically cleared and ready to play, how can you not play him? With three straight overtime games against good teams, the Penguins have proven that they can still compete. If Neal and Kovalev can start capitalizing on their attempts, watch out.
With an already dynamic team on the ice, just imagine how sweet it would be to have Crosby back for the playoffs. With or without him, however, expect the fans and team to have the “us against the world” shield up and ready to make a deep run into the playoffs.
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com