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Stanley Cup Final

Martin hopes Penguins scratch his 20-year itch

Pittsburgh assistant left Avalanche months before they won Cup in 1996

by Robert Laflamme @bobthefire / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup Final gives assistant Jacques Martin an opportunity to get a personal measure of revenge on destiny, two decades after the fact.

Martin watched an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup pass him by in 1996, and it was because he received another opportunity he simply couldn't pass up. He was an assistant on Marc Crawford's staff with the Colorado Avalanche but left Jan. 24, 1996, to become coach of the Ottawa Senators, a position he would hold for eight full seasons.

The Avalanche won the Cup a few months later, on June 11, 1996, by sweeping the Florida Panthers in the Final.
Twenty years later, at age 63, Martin has another chance to raise the Cup, and again it as an assistant, this time on the staff of Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

"I'm delighted," Martin said Thursday following the Penguins' 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

When Martin, who is a quiet type, says he is delighted, what it really means is he's thrilled.

Martin, who is 13th all-time with 613 wins in 1,294 NHL games as coach of four teams -- the St. Louis Blues (1986-88), Senators (1996-2004), Panthers (2005-08) and Montreal Canadiens (2009-12) -- said he sees a lot of similarities between this Penguins team and the 1995-96 Avalanche team he left months before it went on to win it all.

"The main similarity is the depth," he said. "The Avalanche had stars like Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, and we have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Avalanche also had some elite role players like Claude Lemieux and Mike Keane, a good defense and an exceptional goaltender (Patrick Roy).

"Every team is unique, but we have an excellent group here. We are really a team in every sense of the word. A different player or a different line takes over and contributes every game. That's how we're built. We deserve to be here in the Final based on how we've played in the playoffs, but we have a big challenge left."

That challenge is the San Jose Sharks, who Martin feels made some excellent acquisitions prior to the start of the season to allow them to reach the Final, which begins at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"The additions of Paul Martin, who played with us last season, and Joel Ward allowed them to fill two big holes," Martin said. "Their young players have raised their game to another level, and their veterans are playing very well. The Sharks are also coached by Peter DeBoer, who I hired to give him his first chance in the NHL [as general manager of the Florida Panthers in 2008]."

Just as destiny denied Martin a chance at the Cup 20 years ago, it also is the reason he finds himself behind the Penguins bench today. Martin was a consultant for coach Mike Johnston, who the Penguins fired Dec. 12 and replaced with Sullivan. It was general manager Jim Rutherford who asked Martin to come down from the press box and help Sullivan behind the bench.

Even though Sullivan was the coach of the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, all Martin really knew about him at the time was his name.

"I didn't know him at all," he said. "We faced each other when he was coach of the Boston Bruins at the beginning of his career and I was in Ottawa. But we've gotten to know each other and we've learned to work well together. Mike gained a lot of experience working as an assistant, which allowed him to grow as a coach. He listens to what I have to say, and we enjoy working together.

"Of course, the way the guys are playing makes our jobs a lot easier."

The way his guys are playing also could allow Martin to scratch an itch that's been bothering him for 20 years.

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