"What can I say? The support you guys have given us, the loyalty you've shown … this city is unmatched by any other. You deserve to be called the 'City of Champions' and you deserve the Stanley Cup. Today was better than I ever dreamed and I think it's better than we all ever dreamed. Thank you very much for your support."
-- Sidney Crosby to the Penguins faithful at Monday's victory parade in Pittsburgh
It was only four months ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were just two games over the .500 mark and General Manager Ray Shero opted to fire coach Michel Therrien -- who had guided the Pens to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008 -- and replace him with minor-league coach Dan Bylsma.
Under Bylsma's guidance, the Penguins flipped the switch. Following the acquisitions of Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders and Chris Kunitz from the Anaheim Ducks, the Pens finished with 99 points, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Behind world-class talents Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens reached the Stanley Cup Final for a second-straight year. And despite trailing 2-0 and 3-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh rallied to win its first NHL championship since 1992. On Monday, the Penguins were rewarded with a parade.
"What can I say?" Crosby told the crowd after cruising downtown with Lord Stanley. "The support you guys have given us, the loyalty you've shown … this city is unmatched by any other. You deserve to be called the 'City of Champions' and you deserve the Stanley Cup. Today was better than I ever dreamed and I think it's better than we all ever dreamed. Thank you very much for your support."
Bylsma, who had never been a head coach at the NHL level upon his promotion from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, guided the Pens to an 18-3-4 record to close the regular season. His team also won a pair of Game 7s in the playoffs -- both on the road.
"How awesome is this?" Bylsma said. "You guys are a big part of this. It's unbelievable bringing this trophy back to Pittsburgh. The 'City of Champions' is much better than 'Hockeytown.'"
Guerin, 38, said Monday was "one of the first times I've been almost speechless." The two-time Stanley Cup winner was acquired from the Isles -- who finished with the worst record in the League -- for what turned out to be a third-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. He finished third on the club in postseason scoring with 15 points in 24 games.
"It was a special day (at the) trade deadline this year," Guerin said. "I got a call from (Islanders) General Manager Garth Snow, and he said, 'I just traded you to Pittsburgh.' Talk about an upgrade. It was a unique opportunity and a unique situation. I really thank you so much for bringing me here."
Like so many of his teammates, Guerin also was extremely thankful for Maxime Talbot, who scored both of Pittsburgh's goals in its 2-1 victory at Detroit in Game 7 on Friday night. Talbot had 6 goals through the first 23 games of the playoffs.
"This is the best day of my life," Talbot said. "You guys are the best in the world, and I love you. We won the Cup!"
It wouldn't have been possible without the performance goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury put forth in the last two games of the Final. After being pulled from a 5-0 loss in Game 5 at Detroit, Fleury bounced back and allowed a total of two goals over the last two games, including a heart-stopping save on Nicklas Lidstrom in the final seconds of Game 7 to preserve the victory.
"I know I let in some soft ones, and you guys still cheer for me, so thank you," Fleury said. "Also, I want to apologize to all the parents with their kids watching TV … I know I say bad words sometimes. But this is awesome. We've grown together."
And they were saved by owner Mario Lemieux, who was able to keep the team in Pittsburgh following the drafting of Crosby in 2005. The Pens will play the 2009-10 season at Mellon Arena before moving across the street into a state-of-the-art facility, Consol Energy Center.
"I just would like to thank, first of all, the entire organization -- from Ray Shero to the coaching staff to our players, the front office -- this has truly been an unbelievable year from the start," Lemieux said. "We get to enjoy a great summer and a championship. You guys are a part of our family. Thank you very much, Pittsburgh."
On Monday, Shero wasn't about to take credit for what the Pens accomplished. Instead, he praised Lemieux and the ownership group.
"These guys have given me the resources to spend to the salary cap, because they want a winner here in Pittsburgh, and we finally brought a Stanley Cup home," Shero said. "As a group, we'll always remember the fan support. I can't be more proud of a group of guys. They persevered the entire year. I just want to say this is the greatest group of guys I have ever been associated with."
While Crosby and his teammates could use some much-needed rest, it sounded as if No. 87 was ready to put the skates back on and defend his first championship.
"To know we have an opportunity every year … not every team gets to experience that," Crosby said. "We thrive on the opportunity to do this. We don't want to stop at one. We want to go for more. It was a privilege and an honor to go through this with everyone."