Cook: Penguins triumphant regardless of loss


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A 3-2 loss when the Philadelphia Flyers next come to town in three weeks? In a game when Penguins defenseman Paul Martin hits the post not even two minutes in, when center Mike Comrie can't bury one of at least three good first-period scoring chances, when stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can't get on the scoresheet let alone find the back of the net behind rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, when the power play goes 1 for 5, can't score in the final 1:13 despite having a six-on-four advantage with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury pulled and gives up a killer short-handed goal early in the third period?

Now that will be something to complain about.

Not this 3-2 loss to the Flyers Thursday night.

There is absolutely no complaining this morning after the first hockey game at the fabulous Consol Energy Center.

Sure, it would have been terrific if Crosby or Malkin had scored the winning goal and sent the lucky 18,289 in the grand building on a festive opening night home happy. But it didn't happen. I say so what? Really, are you that mad that the Flyers' Claude Giroux will be the trivia answer 30, 40, 50 years from now, remembered as the guy who scored the first winning goal in the arena? Can't you let a loss to the hated Flyers go just one time?

No?

Try looking at the big picture. Remember the many times, going back to when the Penguins were in bankruptcy in 1999, that it seemed this night in a new building wouldn't happen. Then, think about the many great moments, great memories and great wins that are ahead.

You're welcome.

I knew I could make you feel better.

"I was sitting next to Sid getting dressed before the game and I told him, 'Take a picture of all this with your mind, it's going to be pretty special,' " Penguins center Max Talbot said. "There are going to be a lot of special nights in this building."

Sitting in the throbbing arena, taking in the wondrous scene, it was hard not to feel thankful. It also was hard not to think back to the dark, dark days when the Penguins were fighting for their life as a franchise in this town.

Pittsburgh sports icon Mario Lemieux's decision to bring the team out of bankruptcy in '99 was just the start of a struggle that, many times, seemed overwhelming. There were three consecutive years with no playoffs -- including the 2003-04 season when the Penguins had the worst record in the NHL -- as the Lemieux ownership group struggled for financial stability. There was the painful NHL lockout in the 2004-05 season, the best thing that could have happened for the Penguins and so many other franchises because it leveled the economic playing ice. There was that magical day in '05 when the pingpong ball bounced the Penguins' way and they were awarded the No. 1 pick in that year's entry draft and were able to take Crosby. There was the aborted sale of the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie in '06 because the NHL was smart enough to insist he not move it from Pittsburgh. There was the failed bid later in '06 by the Isle of Capri gaming company to get the slots license that would have guaranteed a new arena. There were flirtations by a frustrated Lemieux with Kansas City and Las Vegas.

"We've been trying for seven years to talk to the politicians," Lemieux said back then. "Nobody was willing to listen to us ... "

But in the end, they did listen.

Facing the possibility of losing the Penguins, the politicos approved plans for the $321 million arena in March 2007.

Finally, it all became real Thursday night.

That's why the final score of this first game seemed a bit less important. From the Penguins players walking the red carpet through their throng of fans to get in the new building to Lemieux skating to center ice during the pregame ceremonies to christen the arena by pouring a bottle of water from melted ice at old Mellon Arena to a wonderful, emotional scoreboard tribute to late, longtime public-address announcer John Barbero, it was an amazing night.

"This team does things right," Talbot said.

I couldn't agree more.

Maybe Martin or Comrie will score an early goal when the Penguins next play in the building Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Maybe the great Crosby and Malkin will bust loose in a big way. Maybe the special teams will be a lot more effective.

If not, we'll scream.

Not today, though.

Not today.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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