Center Sidney Crosby might not be thinking in terms of back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final, but that's where the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves at the start of this week's edition of Showtime Sports' "All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup," with the third episode having debuted on Friday.
The Penguins have defeated the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Final and a return to the Cup Final is ahead of them, another chance to be the best of the best. Though their path may have been a bit different than that of the Nashville Predators, who are making their first attempt at winning a Stanley Cup, it hardly matters.
As narrator Bill Camp says, "What does matter is that you are here."
Because each team has ended up in the same place: on hockey's biggest stage.
The show opens with Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who already has won a Cup, in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, and been to another one, in 2010 with the Philadelphia Flyers, and his dog, Stanley. Yes, Stanley. The family rescued the dog during that first Cup run, a tiny puppy who got to be a part of all the excitement and who, as Laviolette said, "is probably waiting for another one."
The dog -- and the city -- gets its chance this year.
There is clearly a different feeling in Nashville, a bursting of pride and focus on the Predators, a groundswell of support for a team in one of the newer NHL markets.
Video: Showtime All Access Ep. 3: Music City hockey rising
"All year we've built this belief in each other that we could win any game, we could win any series, we could win, ultimately, the Stanley Cup," Predators forward James Neal says in an after-practice huddle before the Stanley Cup Final begins. "It's been a lot of hard work, but it's all going to pay off and it's going to be an unbelievable journey for us in this last series. And no better team to beat than the Penguins."
Then it's off to Pittsburgh, where we see Crosby, the Penguins captain, reflecting on how quickly the year has gone since they lifted the Stanley Cup. He muses on all that has happened since and on how fortunate Pittsburgh is to return to the Cup Final.
And then there he is at 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day, a harbinger the ultimate goal is nearing, the games will be starting soon and the focus, spotlight and intensity have picked up in anticipation of the trophy that will shortly be handed out.
Crosby is sticking to the usual talking points, which has never been the style of Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.
And that's not just behind his own podium.
"Mike: How does it feel to be the best-looking player on the Nashville Predators and probably in the League," Subban asks Mike Fisher, microphone in hand, while standing amongst the media scrum. "For me, I think I'm a good-looking guy, but clearly not as good-looking as you. … It must be a great feeling."
"It's the best feeling in the world," Fisher responds. "Better than raising a Stanley Cup, no question, knowing that."
Video: Showtime All Access Ep. 3: Crosby and his loyal fans
Well, perhaps not.
That brings them to Game 1 of the Final, a place every player has been eagerly anticipating, whether they have been there before or not. In the end, it seems the experience of the Penguins is the defining factor, with a problematic penalty leading to a crucial 5-on-3 for Pittsburgh, leading to the Penguins taking the lead.
It's a frustration that is clear from shots of the Predators in the dressing room during the intermission.
"It's a good test for us right here," Laviolette says, with the Predators trailing 3-0.
And Nashville responds to deny the Penguins a single shot in the second period, leading to a similar scene in the Pittsburgh dressing room at the intermission, with their frustration evident and hard words from their coach, Mike Sullivan.
Eventually, the game goes the way of the Penguins. They break the tie with their first shot in 37:09, eventually winning the game.
It wasn't their best, as all acknowledge, but it was a win, and something to celebrate. That's where Sullivan finds himself at the end of the episode, doing his best to slough off the frustration, taking the time to sit on the back porch and play cribbage and smoke cigars with his father, George, alongside his dog, Stanley. It is a brief respite from the pressure.
That pressure intensifies in Game 2, with the Predators chance to stave off the Penguins again falling short. The Penguins win and take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. But as Sullivan reminds them, they have not won anything yet. They have not accomplished anything yet.
No one has.
But the Predators know they are in a hole, know all they have wanted to accomplish is appearing more and more difficult. They are looking forward to getting back to Nashville.
"Certainly we're happy to get home," Laviolette said. "Our home building's been a good place for us."
That is where we leave Pittsburgh and Nashville, each having learned a little something about themselves, having learned a little something about their opponent, and with up to five more games to go until one of them -- the returning champion or the eager newcomer -- raises the Stanley Cup.