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Follow the Penguins' road to the Stanley Cup Final

by Dan Rosen /
The Pittsburgh Penguins' road back to the Stanley Cup Final was long, winding and included key pit stops for sweeping changes. Along the way there were numerous defining moments, both good and bad.

These are the moments that shaped your Eastern Conference champions:

Oct. 2, 2008: European road show -- The Penguins close out the preseason in Helsinki, Finland with a 4-1 win over Jokerit of the Finnish Elite League. Sidney Crosby has three assists and Evgeni Malkin scores a goal. The Penguins are now off to Stockholm to start the regular season with two games against the Ottawa Senators in the NHL Premiere Stockholm. It turned out to be a good team bonding experience and the Penguins earned a split in Sweden.

Nov. 20, 2008: Things looking up -- After closing October with three-straight losses (0-2-1), the Penguins win for the sixth time in a row, beating the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, thanks to four goals in the third period. Things are looking up for Pittsburgh, but would it last?

Dec. 30, 2008: Closing out a dismal month -- A 5-2 loss at home against the streaking Boston Bruins caps a 5-8-1 month and a 7-10-1 stretch since Nov. 22. The Penguins fall to seventh in the Eastern Conference after losing their fourth-straight game at home. The players decide to hold a team meeting after the game and coach Michel Therrien said, "If I were a player, I would have called a meeting. I'm interested to see what comes of this."

Jan. 31, 2009: A forgettable January mercifully ends -- Turns out, not much came of that team meeting. The Penguins lose, 5-4, at Toronto to close out another dismal month with a 5-8-1 record, again. They drop to 22-24-5 overall and enter February outside of the Eastern Conference's top eight.

Feb. 15, 2009: Enter Bylsma -- After losing, 6-2, at the Air Canada Centre against the Maple Leafs the night before, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero makes the first of what would be a series of shrewd moves. He fires Michel Therrien and replaces him with Dan Bylsma, a head coach for all of 54 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League. Bylsma, who retired after nine seasons in 2004, was an assistant for the Baby Penguins from 2006-08 after serving as an assistant for the New York Islanders in 2005-06.

Feb. 16, 2009: Seeing change --
Bylsma coaches his first game, ironically on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum, where he got his start in coaching as an assistant for Ted Nolan in 2005-06. The Penguins lose in a shootout, 3-2, but show signs of what was to come. Bylsma unleashes the offense and the Penguins snap off a season-high 37 shots on goal. They create havoc in front of the net using Bylsma's aggressive style.

Feb. 26, 2009: From the left coast comes No. 14 -- Shero continues to remake the team by acquiring winger Chris Kunitz from the Anaheim Ducks as well as junior prospect Alex Tangradi in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney. Kunitz would score a goal and dish out an assist in his Penguins debut the next night, helping his new team to a 5-4 overtime victory in Chicago.

March 4, 2009: A grizzled veteran hops on board -- Shero completes his remodeling of the Penguins by acquiring veteran winger Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. He also picks up Craig Adams off waivers from the Blackhawks and assigns Miroslav Satan to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Satan would eventually come back for the playoffs when the salary cap is not a factor.

March 5, 2009: The game where it all clicked -- In the middle of a 12 game stretch without a regulation loss (10-0-2) and a seven-game winning streak, the Penguins play what Bylsma considers their defining game. They win at Florida, 4-1, by scoring three goals in the third period. Sidney Crosby scores a goal in his return to the lineup after missing four games. Guerin caps his Penguins' debut with an assist on Crosby's goal. It's the first time Bylsma plays Crosby with Guerin and Kunitz. The line is still together today.

April 7, 2009: Back in the playoffs -- The Penguins win at Tampa Bay to clinch a playoff berth that was very much in doubt when Shero decided to replace Therrien with Bylsma. The Penguins were 10th at the time of the coaching change, but sixth and climbing after defeating the Lightning thanks to a 16-3-4 run under Bylsma. They would close the season with two more wins in a row and finish fourth, earning home-ice advantage in the opening round against Philadelphia.

April 17, 2009: Rally to go up 2-0 -- Trailing 2-1 to Philadelphia in the third period of Game 2 in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal round series, the Penguins get a power-play goal from Evgeni Malkin with 3:37 remaining in regulation to force overtime. Pittsburgh earns a rare two-man advantage in overtime and Guerin scores his second of the game 18:29 into the extra session to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 win and a 2-0 lead in the series.

April 25, 2009: Comeback for the ages --
Philadelphia comes out flying in Game 6 at Wachovia Center and stakes itself a 3-0 lead, but the Penguins rally to win the series with five unanswered goals after Maxime Talbot fights with Daniel Carcillo just 4:21 into the second period. Fourteen seconds after the Talbot-Carcillo scrap, Ruslan Fedotenko gets the Penguins on the board. Mark Eaton and Crosby also score before the second intermission to make it 3-3. Sergei Gonchar scores the winner 2:19 into the third period and Crosby adds an empty net goal.

May 6, 2009: Solving Varlamov -- Two nights after Crosby and Alex Ovechkin tallied hat tricks in Washington, the Penguins return to Pittsburgh and get the best of the Capitals to slice their series deficit to 2-1. Kris Letang, who was questionable for the game with an apparent shoulder injury, scores the overtime-winning goal 11:23 into the extra session off an in-zone faceoff win by Crosby. Pittsburgh sends 42 shots on Capitals' rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov and the last one gives the Penguins life.

Pittsburgh Penguins Eastern Conference Champs GearMay 13, 2009: An unexpected blowout -- The Penguins turn Game 7 of their seminal series against the Capitals into a laugher. Crosby and Adams scored eight seconds apart in the first period and the Penguins extend their lead to 5-0 just 11:37 into the second period before Ovechkin finally gets the Caps on the board. Crosby finishes the series with 13 points. Gonchar, who went out after a knee-on-knee hit with Ovechkin in the first period of Game 4, returns to the lineup and has an assist on Crosby's goal 12:36 into the game.

May 18, 2009: Braving the storm -- Pittsburgh grabs an early two-goal lead and holds on as Carolina keeps charging in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins win, 3-2, thanks to Philippe Boucher's goal with 8:27 to play in the game. Joe Corvo scores for Carolina with 1:26 to play, but that was the closest the Hurricanes would get to winning a game in the series.

May 26, 2009: Another crack at the Cup -- The Penguins complete the four-game sweep of Carolina with a 4-1 victory at RBC Center in Raleigh. The Penguins outscored the Hurricanes, 20-9, in the series and held Eric Staal, the Canes 40-goal scorer, to just one goal.

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