|Rob Scuderi now knows that experience in the Stanley Cup Final is a huge advantage.
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Now that the Pittsburgh Penguins 29-year-old defenseman has been there and failed to do that, he can honestly say what everyone used to tell him is just a bunch of baloney.
“Some people take the attitude that if you get here and you don’t win it it’s not worth it, but I don’t think that way at all,” Scuderi said. “This is the most fun time of the year to play. It’s the toughest time of the year, but it’s the most rewarding and fun time of the year to play. Win or lose, I think this has been a good experience for all of us.”
Experience was the buzz word as soon as the Final began. The Red Wings had it and the Penguins didn’t, so clearly the Red Wings had the edge.
Eventually that proved prophetic since nerves played a part in the Penguins’ poor start in Detroit that they couldn’t overcome, but even though they were ousted in six games by the better team, the Penguins say they soaked up the Stanley Cup Final atmosphere and loved every second of it, save for the result, of course.
“We’re not happy to lose, but I can’t say that we’re not a better team for coming this far,” Scuderi said. “We know what it takes to get this far. A couple of bounces and the series could have been 2-2. We’re definitely richer for the experience.”
Added defenseman Brooks Orpik: “As many stories as you hear from older guys, you really never know what to expect. Sometimes you get a young group that kind of laughs at experience, but it has a lot of value.”
All but four players on the ice for Pittsburgh Wednesday night had never played in a Stanley Cup Final game before this season, but every single player wearing a Penguins uniform had thoughts regarding of what the event would be like.
To most, the Stanley Cup Final experience matched their expectations.
“One thing is you don’t realize how much bigger it is than the rest of the playoffs,” Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. “It is a totally different level to play at with all the media and the exposure it gets, but it’s everything I thought it would be.”
Except for one important thing: The Penguins came into it so confident that they just figured they were going to win. That’s why this still confident group is also a humbled group today.
“You kind of think you have an idea before you get into it, but you don’t expect a game like we had the other night (Game 5) and I don’t think we expected to be down 2-0 or 3-1,” Orpik said. “I think we faced a lot more adversity than we ever thought we would. That’s with all respect to Detroit, but that’s just how confident we were going into the series.”
Still, the Penguins played nervous in Game 1, and rightfully so. But as the series continued, Penguins coach Michel Therrien sensed his team was embracing the Final experience of playing because it got better after each game.
“We have young stars and obviously it was new, but I thought our two games at home, they played great,” Therrien said. “We deserved to win the first game. The second game it could have gone both ways. We were playing against the best team in the League in the regular season, and what I like about our team is we got better every game. That’s a great sign. For a young team, they were pretty good.”
Evgeni Malkin said the Penguins learned how to never quit in this series.
“We found out we have to fight to the last second,” Malkin said through his interpreter, George Birman. “(Game 5) showed us we can play to the last second and score the goal. Same thing (in Game 6). We were just seconds away from maybe tying the game.”
Penguins veteran Gary Roberts stressed that despite the sad outcome, this experience should only be viewed as a positive by Pittsburgh’s 19 first-timers, including Ty Conklin, Dany Sabourin, Jeff Taffe and Kris Beech, who all didn’t play in the playoffs, but were working and watching every single day.
“It’s invaluable, it really is,” said Roberts, who won the Stanley Cup with Calgary as a 23-year-old in 1989. “It’s an experience that will help this group for a long time whether they’re together or not. When you get to the Stanley Cup Final at a young age you get a real taste of what it’s all about. It’s going to give them a lift down the road.”
Many believe losing at this stage helps, too, because adversity builds character.
“I believe (losing) is a part of growing,” Red Wings veteran Darren McCarty said, “and it’s been that way if you look through history.”
For evidence, just look McCarty and teammates Kris Draper and Nicklas Lidstrom. They all played on the 1995 squad that got swept in the Final by New Jersey. A year later, Detroit lost in the Conference Final to Colorado before winning the first of what on Monday because four Stanley Cup championships.
“In ’95 I remember standing by the net with Drapes watching Jersey raise the Cup and Drapes saying, ‘That’ll be us, we’ll get back to raise the Cup,’ ” McCarty said. “The next year, we set the League record for wins and we lose to Colorado in the Conference Final. That was biggest wakeup call of all because it was like, ‘Oh (bleep), we may never get back!’ That was our motivation and that is what the losing did for us – it was, ‘Oh my god, we’re not guaranteed anything.’ ”
Remember also that the Edmonton Oilers lost to the Islanders in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final before starting their five championships in seven seasons dynasty the next season. The Devils lost to the New York Rangers in a memorable seven-game Conference Final in 1994 before winning the first of their three Stanley Cup championships in 1995.
Tampa Bay also lost in the Conference Semifinal to those Devils in 2003 before winning the Stanley Cup in 2004. And, Anaheim lost to Edmonton in the 2006 Western Conference Final and won the Stanley Cup the next year.
“I think you gain a lot by knowing you still have to show up in the Final, too,” Lidstrom said. “That is going to be a great learning experience for them because they have a great team over there. It’s a battle and they are going to learn a lot from that being the great young team they are.”
Right now, the Penguins don’t care too much about that. They lost in the Stanley Cup Final and it hurts like heck. However, deep down they already know this experience has made them a better team and better players.
“You don’t want to think you have to lose to win, but the Oilers went through it (in the 1980s) and the Red Wings went through it,” Whitney said. “It’s pretty important to not really worry about that (as you’re going through it), but it seems that that has been the case. However, when you’re on a team that is there for the first time you never want to believe it.”
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