Jason Brough

Penguins can clinch first Pittsburgh title at home since 1960


It’s been over 50 years since a major-league team from Pittsburgh clinched a title at home.

But that’s exactly what the Penguins will do tonight if they can beat the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates were the last ones to do it, when Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homer at Forbes Field bested the Yankees in Game 7 of that memorable World Series. The Pirates won a couple of more championships in 1971 and 1979, but both those were clinched in Baltimore.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls, but all those were played at neutral sites.

And, of course, the Penguins have won three Cups. Their first, in 1991, was hoisted in Minnesota; their second, in 1992, was clinched in Chicago; and their third, in 2009, was won in Detroit.

Not surprisingly, tickets for tonight’s game are going for big money on the secondary market. This afternoon on Stubhub, the cheapest seat was being sold for around $1,300, while a couple of club seats right behind the Penguins’ bench were going for almost $10,000 each.

“I think our players have this game in perspective,” Pens coach Mike Sullivan said this morning. “I think we’re at our best when we play with emotion and play with energy, but it certainly has to be controlled emotion and it has to be channeled the right way. I trust our leadership in the room that we’ll handle it the right way.”

The Sharks, meanwhile, would love to spoil Pittsburgh’s party and send the series back to the Bay Area.

“I think our group’s whole motivation is to make all you guys get back on a plane and go back to San Jose again,” coach Pete DeBoer told reporters. “That’s everybody’s goal. I know it’s mine.”

Related: History shows clinching won’t be easy for Penguins

Pens have ‘great opportunity’ to hoist Cup at home, but history says it won’t be easy

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  A fan holds up a replica of the Stanley Cup in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Tonight in Pittsburgh, the Penguins have an opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time in franchise history.

And after watching the first four games of this series, many sports gamblers seem convinced it’s going to happen.

At online bookmaker Bovada, the Penguins are -175 favorites to beat the Sharks in Game 5. That means, if the Pens win, it would take a $175 bet to win $100. The first two games in Pittsburgh, the odds weren’t quite so stacked in favor of the home side.

According to a Bovada spokesperson, 75 percent of the action for Game 5 has been on the Pens. The line opened at -155.

“We’ve got a great opportunity,” said Pens captain Sidney Crosby. “It hasn’t been done before here. For the support that we get here and what the fans mean to us, it’d be great. It’s going to take a big effort but it would be great if we could do it.”

If they can’t, it wouldn’t be the first time a home team failed to seal the deal in a similar situation.

Most recently, in 2012, the Kings had an opportunity to sweep Pete DeBoer’s Devils and win their first title in franchise history, only to lose Game 4, 3-1, at Staples Center. (The Kings would eventually win in six.)

More famously, in 1994, the Rangers were all ready to celebrate their first Cup since 1940, only to lose Game 5, 6-3, to the Canucks at MSG. (The Rangers would eventually win in seven.)

And, of course, there was that time in 2008 that the Red Wings could’ve clinched at Joe Louis Arena, only to lose Game 5, 4-3 in overtime, to Crosby’s Penguins. (The Wings would eventually win in six.)

So having been in the San Jose’s position, Crosby is fairly certain the Sharks won’t be an easy out tonight.

“They believe in their team,” he said. “They’re looking at it as one game and trying to get it back to San Jose, so their desperation level is going to be high. Ours has to be high as well.”

Bettman: ‘I don’t see the Hurricanes relocating, period’

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman answers a question during a news conference before the NHL All-Star hockey game skills competition, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

For not the first time, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been forced to address speculation that the Carolina Hurricanes could relocate.

The latest round of rumors came in the wake of news that ‘Canes owner Peter Karmanos was being sued by his three sons for defaulting on a loan worth more than $100 million.

In an interview with The News & Observer, Bettman called the lawsuit a family “squabble,” i.e. not evidence that Karmanos could no longer pay his bills.

“I don’t see the Hurricanes relocating, period,” Bettman said. “I think the Triangle is a terrific market. A good fan base has developed around the Hurricanes and I see the opportunity for continued growth for this franchise in the future.”

In November, Bettman had a similar message, saying, “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about the future of the franchise in Carolina.”

But until Karmanos sells the team (as he’s been trying to do) to an ownership group that’s committed to keeping the ‘Canes in Carolina, and/or as long as Quebec City is without a team, don’t expect this relocation speculation to go away.

And that assumes the NHL will announce expansion to Las Vegas later this month. If the league decides instead to delay, many will wonder if the situation in Carolina is partly to blame, and the speculation will only intensify.

Capitals’ Braden Holtby to march in Capital Pride Parade

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: Goalie Braden Holtby #70 of the Washington Capitals looks on in the third period of their 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 10, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby will represent the Washington Capitals in the annual Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, which the goaltender hopes is just the start of his involvement in the gay-rights movement.

Holtby and his wife, Brandi, were planning to attend the parade anyway, and he was honored when asked by the organization to participate. Holtby and other team representatives will walk in conjunction with the organization You Can Play, which has worked with the NHL to promote tolerance.

“We’ve been wanting to get involved a little bit more and more with that,” Holtby said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Everyone kind of has their charities or their causes that mean something to them and they want to participate in. This is one that’s very high up on the list for us.”

Holtby said he and his wife strongly believe that people should be treated fairly and equally. Brandi Holtby’s Twitter bio features the Harvey Milk quote: “It takes no compromise to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual.”

You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke noticed it and said the Holtby family has been “a huge supporter” of the organization for years. Burke is the son of Brian Burke, the Calgary Flames director of hockey operations. Patrick started the group two years after his brother Brendan, who was gay, died in a car accident in 2010.

Holtby just finished his second full season as the Capitals’ starting goaltender. He tied Martin Brodeur’s single-season wins record with 48, ranked sixth in the league with a 2.20 goals-against average and ranked eighth with a .922 save percentage.

The 26-year-old Holtby is considered the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie when the awards are given out June 22 in Las Vegas.

Holtby, who signed a $30.5 million, five-year contract last summer, is still growing into his role as one of the faces of the Capitals’ franchise. Doing off-ice events like the Pride Parade is just another step.

“It creates more of an opportunity to create good, to do things that means something to yourself and you think that are beneficial to society,” Holtby said. “Hopefully, every year coming we do more and more to create an effect.”

Related: Canucks participate in Vancouver Pride Parade

Credit Sullivan for instilling Penguins with an ‘insatiable appetite to improve’


PITTSBURGH — No disrespect to Gerard Gallant, Lindy Ruff, or Barry Trotz — they all did excellent jobs this season — but if the Jack Adams Award finalists were named at the end of the playoffs and not before, Mike Sullivan would have to replace one of them.

How could he not? Since taking over for Mike Johnston in December, the Pens have gone from performing damage control on a seemingly daily basis to being one win from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

That’s some progress right there.

Just don’t ask Sullivan to sing his own praises.

“The way I look at it, this is the players’ game,” he said today. “The players are the guys that get it done. They deserve the credit. These guys have played extremely hard. They’ve made the sacrifices that are necessary in order for us to be in a position where we are. That is how we look at it.”

Others see it a bit differently. They see what his team’s done since he became head coach, and they feel he probably deserves a few kudos.

Recall in December that Sullivan’s first order of business was to get the Penguins in a better frame of mind.

“Every coach has their beliefs and convictions that are different from the previous coach,” he said. “But the most important aspect for me is to try and instill a certain mindset that will inspire these guys to be at their best.”

Fast forward to the present and the Penguins have only lost seven times in the playoffs, and all but once they’ve responded with a win. They’ve said it over and over that they believe in themselves, they believe in the process and the game plan.

Now recall the tactical changes that Sullivan intended to make.

“I think it’s important that you have to try to come out of your end zone as clean as you can, and as efficient as you can,” he said. “Preferably, you’d like to come out with the puck and so, we’re going to try to implement some schemes to help us try to do that.”

Whatever schemes he introduced, they worked. Yes, his GM helped the cause by adding some better puck-movers to the back end, but getting from one end of the ice to the other is a team thing. It requires buy-in from the defensemen, the forwards, even the goalies. Nobody can be doing his own thing, otherwise the whole operation fails.

Speaking of buy-in, how ’bout that Phil Kessel?

“I think Phil has made a complete commitment to this team,” said Sullivan. “His offense speaks for itself. He’s dangerous on the power play, he’s dangerous off the rush. But I think what his teammates admire and respect, what his coaching staff certainly does, is his commitment away from the puck and to play at both ends of the rink.”

Look, we’re not going to say that Sullivan has turned Kessel into a Selke Trophy candidate, because he hasn’t. And let’s face it, the single, biggest reason Kessel’s been a great fit with the Penguins is he doesn’t have to be the best player on his team anymore, and he’s getting more favorable matchups as a result.

But let’s not pretend that Sullivan has simply allowed Kessel to do whatever he pleases.

“I try to challenge him in areas of his game where we think he can improve, get better, help our team win,” said Sullivan. “Those are the types of conversations that I’ve had with him over the last four or five months.”

It’s never an exact science, measuring the impact a new coach has had on his team. After all, we’re not in the room, so we don’t know what’s been said during video sessions or in one-on-one conversations with the players. The only things we can use to judge are what’s said publicly, and of course how the team is playing now compared to how it was playing before.

Even today Sullivan was talking about the need to get better.

“I don’t think you ever arrive,” he said. “I think it’s that insatiable appetite to improve and get better that has allowed this team to get to the point where it’s at. We’re going to keep pushing until we achieve our ultimate goal.”

Sounds like a well-coached team.

Related: Sullivan pushing all the right buttons