A bitter pill for the Penguins
(1) Detroit v. (2) Pittsburgh
Red Wings win series 4-2
"I haven't experienced a Stanley Cup final loss before. It's not a good feeling," an emotional Sidney Crosby said as he sat in his stall.
There would be no news conference on this night. He was too crushed to get up from his stall. His Pittsburgh Penguins lost the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings and left Crosby with a pain like no other he's felt in his 20 years.
"Yes, definitely ... definitely," said the Penguins captain.
A year ago, I was at a championship game and it was a different player crying his eyes out, trying to make sense of an all-too-long season that was all for naught. The conversation was similar, but so, too, was the underlying determination.
Crosby's down now, but I doubt that lasts for long.
Last May, it was the Memorial Cup, where the host Vancouver Giants took the championship against their bitter rival, the Medicine Hat Tigers.
And the best player for the losing side that afternoon just happened to be Darren Helm.
Afterwards, in sombre circumstances, I chatted with Helm a little, asking what he felt the near future held. As a 20-year-old fifth-round pick of one of the NHL's top contenders, a realistic best-case scenario was likely a tour with the Red Wings' AHL affiliate, but Helm said he had designs on playing in Detroit in 2007-08.
Twelve months later, he's a Stanley Cup champion.
The point being that, in sport, heartbreak's not all that far removed from jubilation, and predicting how that road goes is incredibly difficult. As much as Helm tried to will his Tigers to victory last year, he couldn't — but there was a lesson there, valuable experience that paid off down the line.
And I think the same can be said of Sidney Crosby. There's no doubt in my mind he'll get here again, and maybe next time, he'll get his due.
Ultimately, the better team won this year, and I think the fact the series went six games flattered Pittsburgh. Without a heroic performance from Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5, this series would have wrapped up Monday in Detroit.
Still, the Penguins showed heart by not folding after being heavily outplayed in Games 1 and 2, and there are positives to glean from the fact this young team advanced to within two wins of a championship.
But there's also a cost to not winning now.
Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero has some incredibly difficult decisions to make this off-season, with 10 unrestricted free agents of note and three soon-to-be RFAs expected to claim those big-dollar contracts youngsters have been getting under this CBA.
It's going to be very difficult for the Penguins to maintain a lot of continuity going forward, something that can't be said for the champions. Detroit's UFA class consists of a backup goaltender who won't be back (Dom Hasek), two depth forwards that will return for a song or retire (Dallas Drake and Darren McCarty), and three blueliners who will be glad to return or can be easily replaced (Chris Chelios, Brad Stuart and Andreas Lilja).
These Red Wings will be back, good as new, next season — especially considering how criminally under the cap they currently are heading into 2008-09. And, these days, June 4 isn't all that late for a season to go.
You hear this every year at this time, but a repeat could be in the cards.