The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first team to lose the Stanley Cup Final and return to the Final the following season since the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers.
And just as the Penguins feature the powerful combination of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin centering their top two lines, the Oilers had Hockey Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier as their top two centers.
Crosby and Malkin are threatening to eclipse the 77 points that Gretzky (43 points) and Messier (34) contributed to the Oilers' 1988 Stanley Cup victory. Both players have 28 points through 17 games, or 1.65-points-per-game. If they continue that pace through seven more games, they'd have 79 points between them.
Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson is something of an expert on the subject. He won six Stanley Cups playing right wing on a line with Messier -- five with the Oilers from 1984-90 and one with the 1994 New York Rangers. Anderson was also a teammate of Gretzky for four of those Cup wins with Edmonton.
Anderson is very impressed with Malkin and Crosby, sees the improvement in both from a year ago and believes they're going through a learning curve similar to the Oilers of the early 1980s.
"You have to lose before you can win," Anderson told NHL.com. “You have to have that ache in your stomach, that burning sensation that you don't want to feel again. It's like that first crushed love of your life where you're devastated that someone broke your heart, tore your insides out. Unless you've experienced that, I don't think you can ever win.
"As an Oiler team, we lost several times. We lost in 1981 to the Islanders and in 1982 to the Los Angeles Kings in the ‘Miracle on Manchester,' " Anderson continued. "That was devastating. There was no way we should have lost to L.A. The following year? We lost again (to the Islanders in the Final). I think you have to lose to learn how to win. You just can't have that feeling of being content. You're never content."
Malkin is 22 and Crosby only 21. Anderson, Gretzky and Messier were only 23 when they won their first Stanley Cup together. It's tough to compare young men near the start of their career to the lifetime accomplishments of Hockey Hall of Famers. Anderson was asked to compare Malkin and Crosby to Gretzky and Messier when they were in their early 20s.
"Mark had the fierceness and the toughness and the capability of taking an individual game on his shoulders and winning it by himself. Gretzky did too," Anderson said. "Malkin and Crosby have the ability, that if one guy is off, the other can take up the slack. It's a 1-2 punch. It's like Mike Tyson in his heyday: If he misses with his left, he's going to get you with his right or his uppercut. That's what I take from Crosby and Malkin, if you take one away, the other is going to step up to the plate.
"The similarities between Crosby and Malkin and Gretzky and Messier…Gretzky is up there with Mario Lemieux. They are two of the finest players I played with and against. It's tough to determine how good a player is until you play with him. Not having played with Crosby and Malkin, it's tough to make an assessment on how they compare to Mark and Wayne."
Gretzky set scoring records that may never be broken. Has there ever been anyone to compare with him. Will there be another?
"Lemieux came pretty close," Anderson said. "When I had that opportunity to play with Wayne and Mario in the Canada Cups, it was fantastic, just to be part of that and see the knowledge and the vision they had. ... Gretzky had more than three eyes out there. He could pick out someone in the fifth row while he was turning the puck up ice and say, 'Oh yeah, that's so-and-so sitting there and he's related to so-and-so,' or 'Did you see that this puck was made in Czechoslovakia, as it turns around I can read it?'
"Who has that capability? I never thought in terms of those things until he brought them up. Maybe in practice, Crosby and Malkin are doing that," Anderson said. "Lemieux and Gretzky had those abilities."
Anderson has a lot of respect for Crosby's strength and skills.
"The first thing I notice is the way he protects the puck and the balance that he has," Anderson said. "I see how difficult it is to get the puck off of him and how he controls it. His attributes are at the top of the League and there're not many players better than him. It's obvious that you have to really watch him."
But like any hockey veteran, he's also thinking of ways Crosby can be contained.
"As we did in the past, get a book on key players that can be the difference in a series, what his strengths are, what he likes to go to on his backhand -- he passes as well on his backhand as he does on his forehand -- and try to take away his time and space to eliminate his capability to beat you in one-on-one situations.
"You have to lose before you can win. You have to have that ache in your stomach, that burning sensation that you don't want to feel again. It's like that first crushed love of your life where you're devastated that someone broke your heart, tore your insides out. Unless you've experienced that, I don't think you can ever win."
-- Glenn Anderson
While Malkin's position is center, he plays it like an off-wing right wing, coming up the right boards and cutting to the middle to make plays. Anderson was a left-handed shooting right winger so he's got Malkin pretty well doped out.
"He's very skilled player and he can give you a TKO punch, definitely knock the lights out of you with some of his moves and the attributes that he has," Anderson said. "But he's not consistent. He'll play well for two games and you won't see him the next game. He's another player you have to be aware of on a regular basis. If you can stifle Crosby and Malkin and get to the goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, your chances are a lot better.
"I loved playing the off wing, you see the ice a lot better," Anderson said. "Your move to the outside is a lot better than your move to the inside. When you go back to the inside, you're looking for a play, and if you stick to the outside, you're looking for a shot. If he's driving to the outside, he's looking to make a play to the net. If he cuts back into the middle, he's looking to make a pass.
"When you study the videotape, you see that on a regular basis."
Contact John McGourty at firstname.lastname@example.org