from Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
I can’t help but think of another team as the Penguins fade. It’s the team that helped shaped this one in its formative years. The one that showed them what high-stakes hockey was all about.
I’m talking about the Detroit Red Wings and how, after losing to the Penguins in the 2009 Stanley Cup final, they began to erode, imperceptibly at first. They still had a couple of 100-point seasons in them. Still a few trips to the conference finals. You always knew they would make the playoffs. They did that for 25 straight years.
By 2016, though, the Red Wings had become garden-variety, first-round flameouts. That is where their season ended three straight years (sound familiar?). They still seemed dangerous — at least to where you could conjure images of one last title run if you tried hard enough.
But by that time, Detroit’s Big 3 — their Crosby-Malkin-Letang — was down to one: an aging Henrik Zetterberg. Nicklas Lidstrom had retired in 2012. Pavel Datsyuk was headed back to Russia to finish his career.
Instead of competing for championships, the Wings were competing for playoff spots.
I always wished the Penguins and Red Wings would play a finals rubber match and be linked in history forever.
Instead, more than a decade later, they are linked in another way: These Penguins have become the late-stage Red Wings.
The Penguins won’t fade easily. Once-great teams rarely do. They will rage against the dying of the light. No Mike Sullivan team would go down without a fight (except the one in the bubble two years ago).
But let’s be honest here. It’s getting awfully dark.