The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions and I couldn't be happier.
I mean, obviously there's one scenario that would have me a little more excited these days, but short of the Caps ending their season with a playoff win, the Pens winning it all is perhaps the best imaginable result (and if you're still waiting for a punchline, it ain't coming).
For Caps fans, the silver lining to the Pittsburgh victory is that it should focus their team in a way that another Red Wings win could not have. Had Detroit repeated as Champs, it would have been easy to be somewhat dismissive of the victory - "They've got the experience, players, coaches, etc., that it takes to win... they're the Wings; we're not the Wings."
But with Pittsburgh emerging victorious, there's no reason the feeling throughout the Caps organization should be anything but one of emboldened optimism - "They're a young, hardworking team with high-end talent and little more experience than we've got... they're the Pens; there's no reason we can't be the Pens."
In many ways, the Pens' win signals the death - or at least the suspension - of "Sid versus Alex," because, to be blunt, who cares at this point? Pitt fans shouldn't - they've got what they wanted. Caps fans shouldn't, either - they don't. As of Friday night, nothing matters except the Cup. Not Hart, Ross, Norris or Adams Trophies... nothing but the Cup. Had Detroit won, fans would still be pretending that personal achievements meant something at this point. Sid versus Alex? How about Geno - he's got the Conn Smythe, which is as close to meaningful as an individual award gets these days.
Should Alex Ovechkin win the Hart Trophy as League MVP on Thursday night, it will be nice recognition of another fantastic season. And, to be sure, if Mike Green wins the Norris Trophy as best all-around defenseman, it will be worthy of more than just a golf clap. But a win for either or both will ring at least a little hollow this time around, won't it? Even team achivements - like raising a Southeast Division banner to the rafters on Opening Night - seem a bit more awkward now, don't they (especially considering the culture in which many of these players cut their professional hockey teeth)? And if it feels that way to us as fans, how do you think it feels to the guys who played out the season with broken bones and otherwise battered bodies, only to come up a bit short?
From a slightly more detached perspective, this most recent Steel City championship serves as a lesson learned in terms of salary cap management, as the Pens were able to go out at the trade deadline and get
Andy Wozniewski from the Blues Bill Guerin from the Islanders for peanuts while the Caps had to sit tight and hope that Brian Pothier and Chris Clark would be ready to contribute to a deep playoff run after lengthy layoffs. They weren't. (Then again, Detroit was a bounce or two away from a repeat and they did nothing at the deadline either.)
The bottom line here is that the Caps should be inspired and motivated by Pittsburgh's win (and perhaps for more than just the reasons mentioned above). Hell, they should blow up the picture at the top of this post and hang it in the locker room at Kettler so that every day the players see it and feel the good kind of pain - the kind that makes one work harder in December, knowing that it'll pay dividends in May.
Contrary to the proclamations of some, it is meaningful that the Penguins won the Cup, because the Caps should be able to see reflections of themselves in their closest rivals. Next year, that Cup could be theirs and that parade could be ours - there's no reason they can't be the Pens.