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Pittsburgh Penguins

Conference: Eastern

Division: Metropolitan

Stadium: PPG Paints Arena (capacity)

Head Coach: Mike Sullivan (2015-present)

Starting Goaltender: Tristan Jerry

Star Players: Sidney Crosby (C), Jake Guentzel (LW), Evgeni Malkin (C)

2022-23 Regular Season: 40-31-11 (9th in Eastern Conference)

2023 Playoffs: Did not qualify

Legendary Former Players: Mario Lemieux (C), Jaromir Jagr (RW), Marc-André Fleury (G), Paul Coffey (D)

Stanley Cups (NHL Championships): 5 - 1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017

Pittsburgh Penguins

With the Pittsburgh Penguins one of the most recognizable names in hockey these days, as well as the proud owners of one of the NHL’s coolest logos (an fiercely determined penguin equipped with gloves, skates and hockey stick*), it is easy to forget that the franchise was seen as something of a joke until the last years of the 1980s. The Penguins joined the NHL in 1967 as part of the post-Original Six expansion, mainly serving as cannon fodder for the rest of the league’s expansion teams (for those who enjoy the subversion of the ecological food chain, the Penguins munched the short-lived California Golden Seals in 1970 to win their first-ever playoff series). As the team continued to struggle on the ice in the years to come, however, as well as financially, there was talk of the franchise folding or relocating. Everything began to change in 1984 when the Penguins acquired Mario Lemieux as first pick in the draft that summer. Lemieux instantly lived up to his reputation (and name, which literally translates from French as “The Best”), scoring a breakaway goal on his very first shift in his very first game. Even with Super Mario, often considered alongside Gretzky as one of the greatest players of all time and often touted as a better pure goalscorer than the Great One, tearing up the league scoring charts, it took the Penguins a few seasons to assemble a strong supporting cast around the big man from Quebec. In 1989, the team fired its first warning shots in the postseason, sweeping the New York Rangers before losing to the powerful Philadelphia Flyers in Game Seven of the second round. With Lemieux suffering from the severe back problems that would sadly end up limiting what should have been an even longer and more productive career, the team missed the playoffs completely in 1990, which meant no one could have seen what was coming in 1991. With talented rookie Jaromir Jagr (nicknamed Mario 2, a reference to the popular video game of the time, due to him having a similar helmet, haircut, and body size to #66) joining a rejuvenated Lemieux, the Penguins finished top of their division in the regular season, then powered through the playoffs past the New Jersey Devils in seven, the Washington Capitals in five, the high-powered Boston Bruins in six in the Conference Finals, setting up a Stanley Cup Finals entanglement with the Minnesota North Stars. With both teams looking to win their first-ever Stanley Cup, it began as a fiercely contested series, but ended with the Penguins blowing off the doors in Game Six with an 8-0 win to seal the series and bring the Cup to Pittsburgh. The team followed this up in 1992 with a second Stanley Cup for an incredible back-to-back double triumph. Tragically, Lemieux was hit by bad luck on top of his injury problems in 1993, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, but incredibly, following treatment, he still finished the season as the top scorer in the league despite missing a quarter of the games. The Penguins continued to be one of league’s best teams throughout the 1990s, though they, and the hockey world, suffered a huge shock in 1997 when Lemieux prematurely retired. He shocked everyone by returning in 2000, scoring in his first game and going on to lead the Penguins into a deep playoff run in 2001 where they lost in Conference Finals to a stifling Devils defense. The future looked questionable after Lemieux retired, but then a young player named Sidney Crosby came the Penguins way in the 2005 draft and was later joined by Russian star Evgeni Malkin. Along with young netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, the pair made the Penguins into one of the most exciting teams in the NHL again, losing narrowly to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals before exacting revenge in 2009, when they lifted Pittsburgh’s third Stanley Cup after a thrilling 2-1 Game Seven win. Better yet was still to come in 2016 and 2017, when Crosby and Malkin led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, putting the once-troubled franchise in a tie for 6th on the all-time championships list. Crosby and Malkin are still with the Penguins, though now in the twilight of their careers. Could there be one more last (ice) dance in store for their Penguins? Only a fool would completely rule it out. 

*The Penguins also used to play in the silver dome-shaped Civic Arena, which was ingeniously nicknamed the Igloo (for those who enjoy the subversion of geography, given that penguins and igloos hail from opposite ends of the globe…). 

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