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Stanley Cup Final

Stanley Cup steals show at Final Media Day

Penguins, Predators players speak fondly of hockey's most coveted trophy, but won't go near it

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- The guest of honor sat on a table at the head of the room, polished brilliantly, and it had glittering company.

The Stanley Cup basked in the television lights beside the Conn Smythe Trophy on Sunday. Here was professional hockey's most coveted prize almost rubbing sterling silver with the trophy named for the former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, since 1965 voted to the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

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For a few hours, in four groups, players on the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins and those of the Nashville Predators answered hundreds of questions during 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day at PPG Paints Arena.

And yet the players would scarcely even glance at the trophies, much less study them. There are customs in hockey that are to be obeyed, and this was one: feel free to look quickly, only in passing, but do not touch until you've won.

The Penguins have a combined 171 games of Stanley Cup Final experience, winners of a combined 27 championships. The Predators have just five games to their credit, all on the resume of captain Mike Fisher, who was a member of the 2007 Ottawa Senators who lost to the Anaheim Ducks.

If the players were politely ignoring the Stanley Cup, they were happy to pay it reverence with their thoughts, considering aloud what they find most beautiful about it.

"Just the history of it, seeing all the names on it, what it represents," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, a Cup winner in 2009 and 2016. "When you look at it, (you think of) what it's gone through. If it could speak, the stories it could tell ...

"Even people who don't necessarily know what it is, when they see it, it commands that attention. That's pretty special."

Crosby says it's likely Gordie Howe's name that means the most to him, the late Detroit Red Wings legend having won the Stanley Cup four times between 1950-55.

Crosby is well aware this season's winner will fill the bottom band on the Cup. That means the top band will be retired to be displayed in the vault of the Hall of Fame in Toronto in September 2018, when the 2017-18 champion begins a fresh band. Howe's name, and those of Maurice Richard, Ted Lindsay and other icons who won between 1954-66, will be removed from the Cup forever.

"What guys have gone through and played through to get it, the experiences with it after, everything that comes along with it, the joy that comes along with winning, all those things combined," Crosby said of the Cup's magic. "And the fact it's the same Cup, not something that's new every year."

Fisher, the Predators captain, was seated Sunday just a few stick-lengths from the Cup he's played for once but not won.

"It's great looking. It's the best trophy in sports to me," said Fisher, who especially enjoys that the name of Wayne Gretzky, an idol, is tapped into the silver. "The playoffs are so long -- two, 2 1/2 months. It's a grind, seven-game series, and it takes a toll on your body."

Penguins forward Phil Kessel, who won the Cup for the first time last season, spoke to the trophy's history.

"If you ever get a chance to win it," he said, "you know you're always going to be on it, or in the Hall of Fame (vault)."

Goalie Matt Murray also won the Cup for the first time last season. He, too, is dazzled by the Cup because it is both perfect and imperfect.

"The sheer history of it is the coolest thing," Murray said. "So many legends have held that Cup."

The imperfections, he added, "make it a little bit more interesting. When you get your day with the Cup (in the summer), you're told about all the little nicks and bumps and dents in it and who put them there, what it's been through."

Throughout last spring's run to the championship, Murray heard his name used in the same breath as that of Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden, the two goalies winning more playoff games than regular-season games in their first season.

"That was undeserved," Murray said of being compared to Dryden, who won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 1971 before he had lost a single regular-season NHL game. "Nobody will ever be Ken Dryden, there's no point in even trying. It's cool to have your name on the same Cup as him, for sure, but I don't think of myself anywhere near the same league as Ken."

Murray has never met Dryden, saying he'd love to speak to his idol one day.

"I'd ask him a lot of things," he said. "I'd talk his ear off the whole time."

If Murray had taken a close look at the Stanley Cup, the trophy parked a few feet from him, he'd have counted Dryden's name engraved six times through the 1970s.

But Murray was going nowhere near hockey's holy grail. The last time he had a good look was this past summer, when he had it for a day to take to a shopping mall, hospital and a party in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Four wins from now, Murray and every other player sitting in the Stanley Cup's long shadow on Sunday will be only too happy to study the trophy with a magnifying glass.

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