x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Penguins had a shot at history with the future

The Pittsburgh Penguins, a team on the verge of a dynasty and a string of Stanley Cups, are instead becoming the butt of jokes in Montreal.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, a team on the verge of a dynasty and a string of Stanley Cups, are instead becoming the butt of jokes in Montreal and the recipient of knowing nods throughout the rest of the hockey world. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury had it all laid out in front of them, an easy Eastern Conference path to the cup final. Surely, then, a second consecutive championship would secure their place in history - and, given the team's youth and sublime skill level, it would merely be the starting point for more NHL titles to come.

After eliminating the Ottawa Senators in Round 1, the Pens were served up an allegedly easy opponent in Montreal. But rather than blow past the NHL's 16th-best side in the regular season - and then face the Philadelphia Flyers, a team the Penguins dispatched in each of the past two play-offs - Pittsburgh could not find a way round Montreal's goalkeeping, dedication to defence or shot-blocking prowess.

As big as Montreal's upset of explosive Washington was in Round 1, this was even more monumental; a series that pitted a proven champion against a team riding the coattails of a red-hot goalie and being forever pushed by hockey history and fervent fans. The Penguins still have a bright future and the potential of a string of Stanley Cup championships. But they could have been even more than they ever will be, and that will still sting no matter what successes the future holds for the franchise. sports@thenational.ae