One of the greatest man made physical feelings ever created is that of riding a roller coaster. The dramatic turns and quick plummets create intense excitement as the rider never has a clue what will happen next. Life as a sports fan is a devoted commitment to all the ups and downs every roller coaster has to offer, best exemplified by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When I first started watching hockey, I hopped right a board a train car on a steep decline. I missed the end of the Lemieux and Jagr era, and was left learning the game from Pittsburgh legends Dick Tarnström and Rico Fata.
Though the downward spiral remained constant, I was still young enough to enjoy the ride. The same could not be said of the other generations of fans as they seemed to be hopping off the ride leading the franchise into bankruptcy with constant rumors of relocation.
What goes down must come up though, right?
After the labor stoppage of 2005, the Penguins were able to ride high off the new core they accumulated of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury, through three consecutive drafts.
Since then, the team has reached the heights of championships and the despair of disappointing finishes. The excitement of incredible individual feats and the tragedy of career threatening injuries. But nothing can compare to the ride this team has been on since December of 2015.
With a simple change of philosophy behind the bench and in the front office, the Penguins have been on one of the greatest climbs in NHL history.
Mike Sullivan and Jim Rutherford have led the Penguins to the best record in the NHL since joining forces last winter including capturing the franchise’s 4th Stanley Cup. With another successful spring, the team could rewrite history as the first NHL team to repeat as champions since the 98’ Detroit Redwings.
Crosby has enjoyed a personal roller coaster throughout his career, but he too is on an unheard of stretch winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, MVP of the World Cup against the best talents in hockey, as well as leading the NHL in scoring since Sullivan took over.
On Monday night though, the track was ripped out from under both once again.
Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion. He has now suffered three in his time in the NHL with this quite possibly being the most dramatic.
Crosby turns 30 years old this summer, which usually signifies that a hockey player’s prime years have now come and gone. Which is scary to think about, because it may mean that this was the last we will see of Crosby’s dominance.
And for the team, the injury was quite possibly the only thing able to derail a historical repeat. They were up 2-0 versus the regular season’s best team and many other legitimate contenders were upset in the first round.
It was too good to be true.
Now the Penguins are underdogs even in a series they are still leading. Best case scenario, they somehow win 2 of the next 4 games with a completely depleted lineup and hope that Crosby recovers in time to lead the team back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Even if the Penguins complete the miracle repeat, and Crosby comes back healthy and as dominant as ever, it goes to show just how quickly life can change on the roller coaster of sports.
Never get too comfortable at the pinnacle because you never know when the track stops and gravity will bring you back to reality.