On the Penguins: After a giddy week, a word of caution

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The Penguins have a roster studded with some of the finest players in the game.

They've put together a winning streak with few equals in NHL history.

They are getting ready to embark on a playoff run during which some believe the greatest challenge will be plotting the proper parade route.

The feeling that the Penguins are legitimate threats to win the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup this spring is well-founded. That was true even before general manager Ray Shero bolstered his lineup by adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray last week.

But Shero's moves -- and everything that came before or after them -- guarantee nothing, except perhaps for some flattering reviews and a rush of optimism among the fan base.

The 1992-93 Penguins might be the best example of that hard truth.

That team was coming off back-to-back championship seasons and was built around a core of guys -- Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy and Joe Mullen -- who eventually capped their careers by being inducted to the Hall of Fame.

And that list doesn't include the likes of Jaromir Jagr (who is a pretty safe bet to end up in the Hall someday), Rick Tocchet, Kevin Stevens, Ulf Samuelsson and Tom Barrasso.

On paper, it was an imposing group. On the ice, it could be even more scary.

It piled up 119 points during the regular season, and won the only Presidents' Trophy in franchise history. It strung together 17 consecutive victories, still the league record, during the stretch drive. It steamrolled New Jersey in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

But it couldn't survive a best-of-seven against the New York Islanders in Round 2.

Many factors contributed to the Islanders' victory, which was secured by David Volek's overtime goal in Game 7, but the bottom line is that having superior personnel -- something not even the most partisan Islanders supporter would dispute -- was not enough to get the Penguins into the conference final.

That loss secured the Penguins' spot among the teams that have put together epic winning streaks, but failed to win a Cup. Surprisingly, it is not a particularly exclusive club.

Before the 2013 Penguins, seven NHL teams had won 13 or more games in a row.

Of those, the 1981-82 Islanders are the only one that went on to earn a Cup. And even they, who were in the midst of winning four Cups in a row, came within an overtime goal of being upset by the Penguins in Round 1.

The Stanley Cup playoffs, you see, are a two-month marathon, and much can go wrong during that time. Key players can get injured. Proven scorers can slump. Opposing goalies can get into a groove in which they stop everything they see, and most that they don't.

"When the puck drops, there are goalposts, there are skates that come into play," Shero said. "There are bad bounces and there are teams that get on a roll, or a goalie that gets on a roll.

"We've seen it. You try to do the best you can to give yourself the best chance."

A lot of teams have taken that approach in the past, and not all of them have rings to show for it.

The Penguins learned that two decades ago.

Still, it's important to remember that what happened then is a cautionary tale from the past, not necessarily a blueprint for the future.

Just something those folks sweating the details of a parade route might want to keep in mind.

An NHL destination station

Consol Energy Center, where the Penguins had won 11 games in a row before facing the New York Islanders Saturday, hasn't been very welcoming to opponents for much of this season.

Doesn't mean it isn't a nice place to visit.

While the road team's quarters at Civic Arena were something one might expect to find in a cash-strapped community rink -- cramped and uncomfortable, if not borderline claustrophobic -- the visitors' facilities at Consol Energy Center are spacious, well-lit and generally quite pleasant.

"It's a comfortable building to play in for a road team," said Penguins forward Tanner Glass, who played for Winnipeg last season. "The visiting dressing room is beautiful and nice. You have all this space.

"It's a great room to visit. Even when you're not winning here, it's comfortable surroundings."

The week ahead

Tuesday: vs. Buffalo ... The best thing about this season for the Sabres might be that it's in its final month.

Wednesday: at New York Rangers ... The Penguins own three three-goal decisions vs. the Rangers, including a 3-0 shutout at Madison Square Garden. Pictured left: Rick Nash.

Friday: vs. New York Rangers ... The Rangers absorbed a 3-0 shutout at Consol Energy Center, too.

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First Published March 31, 2013 4:00 AM


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