PITTSBURGH -- At the time, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 was the crowning achievement of Pascal Dupuis' hockey career.
At 30 years old, though, Dupuis felt there was more to accomplish on the ice.
He was not a driving force in Pittsburgh's championship run. He had zero points in 16 postseason games after putting together a respectable regular season that saw him total 12 goals and 28 points. So even as he lived it up that championship summer, gorging on the spoils befitting a winner, a hunger gnawed at him just under the surface.
Dupuis wanted to be more of the story the next time he made a postseason run.
"The [Stanley] Cup showed up at my door that summer in '09 and I told everyone around, including my wife, that the next time I win it, I'll be a big part of it," he said.
Pittsburgh hasn't yet added another Cup to its collection, but after a few early-round flameouts, the Penguins are back on the hunt, playing the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And Dupuis is keeping his promise.
It is a moment in the spotlight that has been building steadily for Dupuis, who has been the unsung cog in Pittsburgh's regular-season dominance for the past few seasons. He had 20 goals in 48 regular-season games after scoring a career-high 25 in 82 last season.
"He's a guy who I have gotten a lot of questions about in the last couple of months about being under the radar," Bylsma said after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a game in which Dupuis had a beautiful shorthanded goal to finish the scoring in a 4-1 victory. "He's been one of the best even-strength goal-scorers in the League for quite some time now.
"His numbers stack right up there with the best names that we all talk about being the best players. He's been doing that with our team with Sidney Crosby, without Sidney Crosby, with a ton of different linemates in a ton of different spots for our team, and it's all 5-on-5 hockey for Pascal."
Despite his improving goal-scoring ability, Dupuis can't crack the loaded power-play units that Pittsburgh typically throws over the boards. He scored two power-play goals this season, his first two during a six-year run with the team that has featured 94 goals in 380 regular-season games.
"I don't play power play, so they either come even strength or penalty killing," Dupuis told NHL.com. "But you know what? That's the role they want me to play. We win that way, so I'll keep playing that way."
It's one thing to vow to be better, but to put in the work and make it happen provides for a far better story, and that is the one his teammates rave about.
Forward James Neal talked about the work Dupuis put in during the extended summer vacation this year, especially the informal practice sessions the Penguins who live in the area year-round had at their Southpointe facility during the lockout.
"He is a guy that definitely cares a lot about what he does," Neal told NHL.com. "A big thing was his conditioning. Skating with him a bit at Southpointe, you could see how good a shape he was in and he definitely got a jump on guys. He continues that because he works really hard."
Crosby was a part of some of those workouts, and he noticed his linemate's work ethic almost immediately.
"He's committed, he's 34 and I think he's probably in the best shape of his life at that age, so he's put in a lot of time," Crosby said Thursday. "During the lockout, about 10 of us would get together and he was the one kind of pushing everyone -- that's definitely a big reason why he's doing what he's doing."
The other reason is because he is committed to doing those things that lead to goals when skill is not the overriding facet of your repertoire. He has no fear of initiating contact or going hard to the net in the search of rebounds and deflections. His hard work in the defensive zone -- and on the penalty kill -- also generates a fair amount of chances.
"He's an extremely hard worker, diligent in all aspects of his game," Bylsma said. "He gets good goals, dirty goals. Shorthanded goals like we saw [in Game 1] -- a pretty spectacular play. He got huge goals for us in the [New York] Islander [first-round] series, going to the net, driving there and being a gritty player. He's getting a little bit of notoriety right now, but he has been that quality of player for our team for a long time."
Dupuis knows that there is a long way to go this postseason for him and his team to reach the goals they have set for themselves. He also knows that his contributions are still seen as a bit of a fluke, despite the sustained level of success.
He has heard the repeated cries from the media and the fans for Penguins general manager Ray Shero to find a linemate worthy of Crosby's talents to replace Dupuis.
But much like the visit of the Stanley Cup to his house four summers ago, Dupuis takes his running success now as a warning that he must be even better.
"I guess they are going in right now," he said Thursday of his scoring fortunes. "Point-wise I'm on the board, but my role hasn't changed. I'm still killing penalties, I'm still playing the right side -- or the left side -- with Sidney Crosby and this hasn't changed in the last three years. It's more of the same since I've been here, anyway -- just find wingers for Sid. But I'm glad it's me right now."
So are the Penguins.
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