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Adversity helped Penguins appreciate Stanley Cup win

Pittsburgh changed coaches, survived injuries to claim championship

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- To many of the Pittsburgh Penguins, their Stanley Cup championship still doesn't seem real.

Four days removed from a 3-1 defeat of the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy sat at his locker stall Thursday, surrounded by media before departing for the summer. During each question, a grin spread across his face.

Between winning the Cup on Sunday, flying home from San Jose and then a victory parade Wednesday, Lovejoy described the past few days as fun and exhausting.

"Last night I went to bed at 10 p.m. after lots of celebrating," he said. "It's been just an incredible couple of days. So special. That parade was spectacular yesterday. More than you could ever dream of. It's just so cool. There's just so much passion in this city, and it's just a pleasure to be a part of."

Centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were a bit more reserved than Lovejoy, but shared his sentiments.

Malkin won the Stanley Cup for the second time a little more than two weeks after his first child, son Nikita, was born. On Thursday, he agreed with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux's comments Sunday that it was important for great players like Crosby and Malkin to win a second championship.

"Some guys can get lucky and win once," Malkin said. "When you win two, I think it's more important to win a couple. Maybe a couple more, you know? But I think it's tough to say. It's hard to win. You understand you won't play in the Final every year. We didn't play [in it] in seven years. It's hard to win."

Video: Hear what Malkin said after winning the Stanley Cup

The Penguins appreciated their journey to a fourth championship.

Some doubted their chances even to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs as late as March 11, when Malkin sustained an upper-body injury against the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the time, the Penguins were battling for a wild card into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and seemingly couldn't afford to lose Malkin's production.

Center Nick Bonino replaced Malkin between left wing Carl Hagelin and right wing Phil Kessel. That created the "HBK" line, which ended up as Pittsburgh's most efficient during the postseason.

The HBK moniker was used by retired professional wrestler Shawn Michaels, who predominantly worked for World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE sent the Penguins a heavyweight championship belt following their Stanley Cup win.

Bonino carried the belt during the victory parade Wednesday and said that he, Kessel and Hagelin were going to receive their own personalized belts.

"It's been a whirlwind," Bonino said. "It's weird to think we won it four days ago. It all happens so fast. You skate around the ice with that thing over your head and it takes like 10 seconds. You want to get that moment back, because it was a lot of fun."

That moment came after a turbulent beginning to the regular season.

When Penguins coach Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston on Dec. 12, the team was 15-10-4 and had lost five of seven games. Crosby said he thought that adversity "toughened [the Penguins] up."

Video: Hear what Crosby said after winning the Stanley Cup

"We've come a long way from December, there's no doubt," Crosby said. "I think at that point, our focus was on a lot of other things besides winning the Stanley Cup. We were just trying to find a way to get in the playoffs and get our game where it needed to be. It probably helped us in a way. The expectations are always high, but I think that we didn't get caught looking too far ahead, considering our situation."

The Penguins lost their first four games under Sullivan but eventually started to show substantial improvement with their speed and puck possession. That led to a strong finish to the regular season, followed by a Stanley Cup run.

"I thought the players were very receptive to what we were trying to preach to them," Sullivan said. "It certainly was a process to get us to where we felt we wanted to be. I think when we put that stretch run together late in the season … I think that provided some evidence that when we play a certain way, we can be a really good team."

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