PITTSBURGH (AP) The parade celebrating the Pittsburgh Penguins’ second straight Stanley Cup was still raging on that hot afternoon in mid-June when Mike Sullivan decided it was time to up the ante.
Sure, becoming the first back-to-back Cup winners in nearly two decades is historic. Still, it’s just two. Three straight? Well, that’s something else entirely. And the man whose arrival in December 2015 coincided with Pittsburgh’s ascendance back to the top of the NHL knew it.
So the head coach with the innate ability to calibrate a roster stuffed with an eclectic mix of generational offensive talent, relentless young legs and just enough tenacity figured it was time to set the bar for 2018.
“I wonder if we can repeat, if we can `three-peat,”‘ Sullivan said.
Only he wasn’t wondering. He was challenging Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray and the rest of the core that has a chance to win three consecutive Cups for the first time in the NHL since Mike Bossy led the New York Islanders to four straight from 1980-83.
And the message rang through loud and clear. The way Sullivan’s captain figures it, facing that kind of internal pressure sure beats the opposite, even if Crosby isn’t quite ready to start thinking about what doing something his boss (Penguins owner Mario Lemieux), his idol (former Red Wings center Steve Yzerman) and the greatest player of them all (Wayne Gretzky) never did.
All three had their shots at a three-peat. All three came up short, if winning “just” two straight Cups qualifies.
“You don’t need to spend a lot of time looking back and comparing and things like that,” Crosby said. “You can do that when you’re done playing.”
Let’s do it anyway. No team has even reached the Cup final three successive springs since the Islanders finished off Gretzky and the Oilers on May 16, 1983, for their fourth championship, a time when the path from burgeoning power to dynasty was far shorter than it is now.
There were only 21 teams in the league in 1983, not 31. There was no salary cap, allowing teams to stockpile all the talent they could afford. Globalization hadn’t yet reached the league. The Islanders’ last Cup team featured players from three different countries. Last spring’s Penguins had eight.
Oddsmakers have made Pittsburgh the early favorite. The Penguins insist they’re focusing on the opener Wednesday against St. Louis. Worrying about becoming a true “old school” dynasty is at the bottom of the list of their concerns.
“The historical chips will fall where they may,” defenseman Ian Cole said.