Things were a heck of lot different around Vancouver the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins came to town.
Trevor Linden, Brad Isbister, Byron Ritchie and Brendan Morrison were Canucks forwards, while Lukas Krajicek and Aaron Miller patrolled the blueline.
Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen were up and down between the Canucks and Manitoba Moose with neither having scored an NHL goal, and Tanner Glass had five NHL games under his belt and was without a point in the bigs.
Steve Bernier and Christian Ehrhoff played for the San Jose Sharks, Kyle Wellwood and Andrew Raycroft were still calling Toronto home and Shane O’Brien and Brad Lukowich were teammates with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Oh, and Penguins pest Matt Cooke was still on our side.
Now, here we are, it's been 767 days since the Penguins outlasted the Canucks 2-1 in a shootout on December 8, 2007 and it still feels like just yesterday.
On that night fans were treated to one of the most memorable showdowns in recent memory. Even at 1-1 off goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Kesler, Pittsburgh and Vancouver headed to overtime with the Canucks hoping to pot a golden goal to avoid wasting a masterful 31-save performance from Roberto Luongo.
Sidney Crosby had a different agenda as he broke in alone on Luongo in overtime before being hauled down by Aaron Miller. Penalty shot. In overtime. Crosby vs. Luongo.
Crosby came in with speed and faked a wrist shot then slammed on the breaks just before the paint and tried to tuck the puck under the arm of a sprawling Luongo. Fail.
The game eventually finished with Pittsburgh winning in a shootout off a Kris Letang goal, but not before Crosby was once again stopped by Luongo in a one-on-one battle.
“It was really exciting, I remember Sid with the penalty shot at the end there and it was a great game and the fans were into it,” recalled Luongo, following an optional team skate on Thursday, in which he spent a little extra time on the ice after practice.
“I think that’s what makes it even better is the intensity in the building and you can feel the crowd hanging on by every moment there.”
Since Luongo bested Crosby when the Pens topped the Canucks, Pittsburgh has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice having captured the most coveted prize in sports once and Vancouver has gone through some turmoil after missing the dance one year and making it to the second round in the next.
There’s clearly been a lot of change since the Canucks last hosted the Crosby and the Penguins, but what hasn’t changed is that two important points are up for grabs, just like they were when Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals stopped in Vancouver a few weeks ago.
“It’s kind of the same situation, same buzz around the city and all that stuff,” said Luongo. “As a team obviously we’re worried about winning the game and not about all the other stuff that comes along with it.”
A win would help move the Canucks two points closer to top spot in the Northwest Division, and it would also serve as a little redemption for one Vancouver forward.
Although Mikael Samuelsson has been in the Western Conference for the past five seasons, he’s seen enough of Pittsburgh to give him nightmares of Penguins. Samuelsson, previously a member of the Detroit Red Wings, met Crosby and company in the last two Cup finals.
“They’ve got a great team again, obviously they’ve been up and down recently, but if you look at their line-up they have some great players so it’ll be fun, a lot of fun,” said Samuelsson.
It’ll be fun for the Canucks if they can pick themselves up following three consecutive losses and be prepared for a team that combines the skill of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, with the smarts of Jordan Staal and the tenacity of Cooke and Mike Rupp.
“In this league today, with the way the Penguins skate, you’ve got to be careful to play with the sticks down and skate with them, otherwise they’re going to draw penalties and on the power play they’re really good,” said Samuelsson.
Added Shane O’Brien, “We’ve just got to limit their time and space and not let them make plays. If you give them a little bit of separation, they can make stuff happen in a hurry.
“I’m sure we’ll get our matchups and we’ll get who we want against them, so we’re just going to try to grind them down.”
Whether this game lives up to Pittsburgh’s last visit or not, the sequel is carrying a storyline that was still in the making during round one.
The 2010 Winter Olympics was somewhat of a foreign thought in 2007; the countdown clock, for example, had just recently been put into place.
Luongo and Crosby will be teammates on Team Canada at the Games, but that is then and this is now.
Don’t expect anything to change if they go one-on-one again this time around.