Former Penguins winger Stevens' guarantee a fond playoff memory
Impressed by current team, but won't offer another brave prediction
May 31, 2013 8:00 AM
Kevin Stevens takes warmups during his time with the Penguins. Stevens promised the Penguins would come back from a 2-0 defecit to win the conference final against the Bruins in 1991, which they did.
Penguins file photo
In 1992, Kevin Stevens, right, Rick Tocchet and the Penguins swept the Boston Bruins in the conference final before winning the Stanley Cup against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Associated Press file
A 2001 file photo shows former Pittsburgh Penguin Kevin Stevens running into Dan Bylsma of the Mighty Ducks during a game in Pittsburgh (yes, that Dan Bylsma.)
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Carryover? Probably not after all this time.
But the words -- the statement, the promise -- carried great weight 22 years ago.
The Penguins had not won much of anything to that point, never more than one series in any playoff year.
In 1991, with world-class talent led by Mario Lemieux, they finally reached the conference final for the first time -- and promptly lost the first two games in Boston. It was after the second game, a 5-4 overtime defeat with 22 minor penalties, that winger Kevin Stevens made a bold prediction in the locker room in front of reporters and teammates.
The Penguins, he said, would come back and win the series.
And they did, taking the next four games en route to their first Stanley Cup. The next year, they again met Boston in the conference final, and this time swept the Bruins on their way to their second Cup in a row.
The Penguins will meet Boston in the postseason for the first time since then when the teams collide in the Eastern Conference final beginning Saturday at Consol Energy Center. The Bruins haven't won a postseason game between the teams since Stevens' public promise of a comeback.
Is he calling for a Penguins win again?
"I'm pulling for the Penguins, obviously," the retired Penguins player and scout said this week from his home in the Boston area.
"I like the Bruins, but my heart is still with the Penguins. I think the Penguins probably have a little more talent, but it's tough. If the Bruins won it, I don't think it would be a total shock.
"But I still think the [Penguins] will win the series."
Not as bold as that May 3 night in 1991, when Stevens was 26 and a budding star who had 40 goals in the 1990-91 regular season.
Stevens chuckled when asked to recount his comeback prediction.
"I said it. I meant it," he said. "But I kind of felt we had a better team. We [had] just lost in overtime. The emotions were kind of high. I don't know if it was a good thing to say or a bad thing to say. I got lucky it worked out that way.
"I believed in the guys we had in the locker room. I still thought we'd beat the Bruins. I was kind of wound up a little bit."
Did his bold statement help will the team to four wins in a row against Boston after that night?
"I don't know," Stevens said. "I think everybody felt the way I felt, but nobody else said it.
"After we won, it was just the next series. That's the way it is in the playoffs."
Stevens still loves the Stanley Cup playoffs. He plans on being at Game 3 Wednesday at TD Garden, about 30 minutes from his home.
"I'm a big sports fan. I watch basketball, other sports. But there's nothing like this," he said. "It's a whole different thing.
"Every game is a game in itself. The difference between winning and losing is so minute."
Stevens has been listening to sports talk radio and other outlets in Boston. Bruins fans have two Penguins on their minds -- and not in a pleasant, admiring way.
"They're talking about [Matt] Cooke and they're talking about [Jarome] Iginla," Stevens said.
A Cooke hit on Boston's Marc Savard in March 2010, though legal at the time, left Savard severely concussed. He has barely played, and not since the 2011-12 season. Iginla, invoking a no-movement clause in his contract, was able to choose the Penguins instead of the Bruins when Calgary opted to trade the longtime star in March.
Stevens likes both wingers -- Cooke as part of a strong third line and Iginla as a top-six forward.
Then again, he likes the makeup of the Penguins in general.
"It's a well-oiled machine," he said.
Asked if the Penguins have a power forward now who would correlate to him on the 1991 Penguins, Stevens picked James Neal.
"He scores more goals than I scored," Stevens said, being modest considering he topped 40 goals four times and 50 goals twice. Neal, 25, scored 40 goals in 2011-12.
"He's got a better scoring touch," Stevens said of Neal. "I think I got more of my goals in closer [to the net]. I think him and [Evgeni] Malkin play well together."
As for the guy who eventually replaced Lemieux as team captain, Stevens is impressed.
"He's a hard-working guy," Stevens said of Sidney Crosby. "He's got tons of talent. He works very hard around the net, plays hard in his own end. He's probably the best player in the world. It has to do with playing in all three zones.
"Kind of like Mario, every time he steps on the ice people look to see, and you know something can happen every time he's on the ice."
Whether Crosby and the others can knock off the Bruins and win the Cup remains to be seen, but Stevens likes the parallels.
"Both years, we had to go through the Bruins," Stevens noted of his two Cup years with the Penguins. "And kind of like this year, they're both good teams."