Fans try to see silver lining in Penguins' dark cloud

The mood was as gloomy as the weather in the city after the Penguins fell to the Bruins


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Light came too early Thursday morning. Or was it not early enough?

At 5:49, the darkness gave way, and a gray pall began to settle over a sleepy and confused city. It was a fitting color because the crucial matter of moving on after the Penguins' 2-1 double-overtime loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final late Wednesday night, for most Pittsburghers, was anything but black and white.

You had to wake up and see it, feel it, for yourself. And your reaction, upon experiencing this not-so-everyday rise from slumber, said a lot about you and the shape of your sports heart.

The Penguins, built at the trade deadline to be indestructible, even against the Boston-strong Bruins, now trailed 3-0 in the series. Could you shake the sense that the season was already over with one game still to play? Could you find, somewhere deep, a belief in miracles, of "87," "71" and the rest of the gang pulling it together in a comeback for the ages? Or did you choose to let the sadness overwhelm you, pulling you into the dreaded thought that this summer's success was now in the hands of ... the Pirates?

You were probably tugged somewhere near the middle. You went to work, absurdly happy to do your job and bury yourself in it for a day. And, at some point, you conjured up a little bit of faith, and the persistent rain didn't feel so much like tears anymore.

The Pens winning four in a row? Hey, why not?

Breaking the news

Steve Colazzi, 33, of Latrobe has six children ranging from newborn to age 10. When Game 3 began, the family was playing hockey in the garage and listening on the radio. They went inside to watch the finish, and even the young ones made it through the first overtime before succumbing to fatigue.

"They're little guys," said Mr. Colazzi, who owns Colazzi Brothers, a bakery in Greensburg, Pa. "They stayed up as long as they could."

This morning, before heading into Pittsburgh to man a stand at the Market Square farmers market, Mr. Colazzi had to inform his children of the result.

"They were broken up about it, but what are you gonna do?" he said. "I woke up thinking, 'They played much better. If there's any team built to make a comeback, I think it's the Pens.' Who knows. Wouldn't you love to see a 3-0 turnaround? That's something to tell your kids about."

Certainly, it'd be worth staying awake for.

A mayoral coping strategy

Bill Peduto watched until the bitter end from his Point Breeze home. When Patrice Bergeron's shot squirted by Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun shortly after midnight, Mr. Peduto turned off the TV, went upstairs, answered a few emails and went to bed.

"I woke up this morning and said, 'Something is not right. ... Oh yeah, last night,' " said Mr. Peduto, the District 8 city councilman who won the Democratic mayoral primary and is the presumptive favorite in the upcoming election. "I just feel a bit washed out, but I'm sure the team feels worse."

Mr. Peduto, 48, has played hockey for most of his life and only stopped participating in his adult league because of the campaign. He spends more time than he'd readily admit scouring hockey blogs and websites and playing "virtual general manager." When the Penguins traded for big names like Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow to add to the nucleus of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, he couldn't help getting geared up for another Stanley Cup run.

"You could go onto any Canadian blog," Mr. Peduto said, "and everyone was looking at this team as potentially one of the greatest assemblies of hockey players in NHL history."

Mr. Peduto, who has had season tickets most years since 1973, attended the Game 2 debacle at Consol Energy Center, a 6-1 loss.

"There was a great level of disappointment," he said. "But last night was just heartbreak. Two different emotions. Heartbreak is always worse."

Mr. Peduto's Republican opponent, Josh Wander, was not able to watch Game 3 because he attended a charity event. Mr. Wander, a decided underdog against Mr. Peduto, said he can empathize with the Penguins' situation.

How did Mr. Peduto get over his heartbreak Thursday?

"Work," he said. "I keep myself focused in the work."

A good place for a meltdown

Vinnie Richichi hosted sports talk radio shows in San Francisco for 13 years and Seattle for 18 years. When he was offered a job in Pittsburgh nearly four years ago, he came to visit and fell in love. What better place could there be to talk to sports fans?

"The passion is unbelievable," said Mr. Richichi, who co-hosts the "Vinnie and Cook" show on 93.7 The Fan with Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook. "There's just no place quite like it. It's almost like religion here."

So Mr. Richichi knew what was coming during Thursday morning's show when the phone lines opened: all kinds of blasphemy.

"There's a little bit of sports psychotherapy," Mr. Richichi said. "You probably listen a lot more on a day like today than you put your own opinions out there. I'm prepared to talk them down off the bridges."

Thursday morning's show didn't disappoint. Danny in Las Vegas called in to say that the game was "gut-wrenching." A man who calls himself "Tomcat" said, "You talk about a day where the weather outside matches the mood inside. ... You know, it's a shame. It's sad." A man named Bob blamed Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Several callers believed that a Jaromir Jagr curse now existed.

The show got real juicy when Matt in Boston called to gloat. It didn't take long before Mr. Richichi, an adopted Pittsburgher, verbally accosted him, ending the conversation.

"Because he's from Boston, and I don't like him!" Mr. Richichi said.

More Beantown disturbance

"CSI" played on a television set in the Souper Bowl sports bar Thursday afternoon because the managers at the bar -- in the shadows of the Consol Energy Center on Fifth Avenue -- couldn't bear to put on sports after what took place in Game 2.

What upset them the most Thursday? The Boston bars that kept prank calling them.

"We were really good sports about the first couple," manager Jess Santavy said, "but it's like 40 times a day."

The Bruins fans call and ask for Owen. Owen who? "Oh-and-3!!" they scream into the phone. The calls started with Oh-and-2 taunts Monday night and have continued.

Souper Bowl employees believe a Boston radio station has been passing around phone numbers for the local bars that have been targets.

YouTube videos of the prank calls are being passed around the Internet. You can guess the reaction: Bruins fans think it's great, Penguins fans think it's childish.

"Not even Philly fans did that," manager Carly Sypherd said.

The regulars at the bar will file back into their lucky seats tonight and order their lucky meal as they prepare to cheer on Pittsburgh for what could be the final game of the season.

"We still have hope," Ms. Santavy said, "and we hope to be able to call the bars in Boston back."

Bruins becoming symbol

Brian Navin was enjoying a nice day in the Boston Common Thursday as he talked about the biggest story in the city, nearly two months removed from the Boston Marathon bombings:

The Bruins, after trailing 4-1 in Game 7 of their quarterfinal series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, were now one win from the Stanley Cup Finals.

Boston fans have rallied around the Bruins not only because of their commanding lead over the Penguins but also for their support of those connected to April's bombings.

The Bruins have raised money for the One Fund Boston, which benefits victims from the attacks. Additionally, first responders and victims have served as the team's honorary captains prior to games.

"Coupled with the marathon and just the whole vibe of the city, I think the Bruins are playing with passion kind of on the tail winds of the marathon and the 'Boston Strong' [motto]," said Mr. Navin, 42, a native of South Boston. "That whole dynamic. If you ask me the one thing why the Bruins are playing at this level, I think some of that's that."

How popular are the Bruins right now?

"The Bruins have surpassed the Red Sox in terms of vigor right now," Mr. Navin said. "It's a good time to be in the city. No doubt."

The Bruins can feel it, too.

"Anything we can do to try and ease that pain a little bit," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It affected all of us. We know as a team that the better we do, the better it is for this city, and it deserves it."

Graduating with gloom

Carley Petruskie started her Twitter account, @PensFanTweets, in 2011. An 18-year-old armed with nothing but strong opinions on her favorite team, she has built up more than 2,100 followers.

"Waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and say we have all been punk'd," Ms. Petruskie tweeted Thursday morning.

Alas, as the day went on, there was no Mr. Kutcher, the star of the once-popular MTV series, and it meant Ms. Petruskie would have to go through her graduation from Chartiers Valley High Thursday night with the Penguins' fate on her mind.

"It would have been a lot better if we were up 3-0 instead of down 3-0," Ms. Petruskie said.

Ms. Petruskie was supposed to go to a celebratory dinner at her grandmother's house before heading to graduation. She knew exactly what her uncle and grandfather would be discussing at the dinner table.

"If anything, I'm more confused," Ms. Petruskie said. "I don't understand how you have so much momentum the first two series, and the first two games of this series it didn't seem like they were trying. Honestly, I thought it was going to be an easy run. But it doesn't look like the same team."

Ms. Petruskie plans to attend Penn State in the fall and study political science.

She hopes to go to law school after. But, with the Penguins still alive, there are pressing issues in her immediate future to sort through first.

"I mean, as a diehard fan, you have to have some faith," Ms. Petruskie said. "We've seen them come back before, and they have winning streaks that were longer than four games. They can do it, but it's going to be extremely hard."

mobilehome - neigh_city - penguins

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. Mike Vernon, Nick Veronica, Seth Rorabaugh and Shelly Anderson contributed to this report. First Published June 7, 2013 4:15 AM


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