-- The "Tailgate on the Terrace" right above Gate 3 at Mellon Arena was certainly rocking on Monday in anticipation of the opening game of the Eastern Conference Final between the Carolina Hurricanes
and the hometown Pittsburgh Penguins
They came prepared and ready to roll in their old-school Penguins jerseys, as well as those memorable powder blue replicas worn during the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo. Most donned No. 87 sweaters in honor of Sidney Crosby
, but there were quite a few Evgeni Malkin
, Marc-Andre Fleury
and Mario Lemieux
jerseys among those milling around the famed Igloo.
Fans unable to snag tickets to Monday's game were in luck too, as lawn chairs were set up right outside the entrance to Mellon Arena where Game 1 would be shown in its entirety on the big outdoor screen made possible by Penguins corporate partners Trib Total Media and Consol Energy.
"This is my fifth time here watching a Pens game with my friends outdoors," said Ben Taylor of Middletown Township, Pa. "The fans are crazy and, really, I think it's even better than being indoors. Whenever something good happens we go nuts and when something bad happens everyone flips out."
Taylor, 16, believes this will be Malkin's series to shine. "It's his turn to step up," he said.
He's not alone either. David Heilman, 45, of North Hills, Pa., is also a Malkin believer.
"I think Malkin will be the big difference in this series," Heilman said. "I don't think the 'Canes can handle both Crosby and Malkin."
Heilman, who was wearing a Lemieux jersey, was also enjoying the pre-game festivities.
"Pittsburgh fans, in general, are crazy, and this is a great city and a great sports town," he said. "It's just the magnitude the city brings to the Penguins. And it's a young team that's attracted such a young crowd; look at all these young people who just love the Pens."
There's sense around the downtown area that ever since last year's disheartening six-game setback to the Detroit Red Wings
in the Stanley Cup Final, the Penguins have become a team on a mission.
"It's destiny," said 19-year-old Molly Specht of North Huntington. "I think the whole team has been playing so well and everyone is so excited to be rooting for the Pens. I love this atmosphere; it's great to have everyone together outdoors like this. It really is the same type of intensity out here as it is inside."
The Penguins eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers
in six games of the East quarterfinals -- knocking their intra-state rival out of the playoffs for the second straight season. The Pens then needed a thrilling seven games to dispatch of the Washington Capitals
in the conference semifinals.
"Hopefully, if we reach the Cup Final, Detroit is good and tired; this is our year," said 21-year-old Greg Serafini, who drove from Stewartville, Ohio, to see his Pens. "I think Fleury will play well and the fact the Pens have four of the best centers in the League will play a big part. That's huge this time of year, you know? I didn't think they'd reach this point at midway through the season, that's for sure. I figured we'd be lucky to get back into the playoffs, but we did it and now we're on a roll. We just want to keep it going."
And Serafini offered this final statement.
"We want Detroit and Marian Hossa
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.