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Sydor's old head helps young Pens stay focused

by John Kreiser

In his fifth trip to the Stanley Cup Final, Darryl Sydor has been a steady veteran influence on a team filled with young players depite having played in one game this posteason - a Game 3 win over Detroit.
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PITTSBURGH -- Darryl Sydor knows what a lot of his young Pittsburgh Penguins teammates are going through, playing in their first Stanley Cup Final. He went through the same thing – 15 years ago.

Sydor, now 36 and on the back nine of a fine NHL career, was a 21-year-old in 1993 when the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings made the Final for the first time in franchise history. He had just turned 21 and completed his first full NHL season, scoring six goals in 80 games.

Now he's a wise, old head on a team that's filled with kids, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Sydor played 74 regular-season games, but hadn't played in the playoffs before replacing rookie Kris Letang in the lineup for Wednesday's 3-2 victory in Game 3.

"He's been here, I think this is his fourth time," said 25-year-old defenseman Ryan Whitney, who was partnered with Sydor for most of Game 3. "It makes a huge difference because he knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup."

Actually, this is Sydor's fifth trip to the Final. He won with Dallas in 1999 and Tampa Bay in 2004, and was on Cup finalists with the Kings in 1993 and the Stars in 2000. He, Gary Roberts (Calgary, 1989) and Petr Sykora (New Jersey, 2000) are the only Penguins who've won a Cup. Sydor and Sykora are the only players on the roster to have been to more than one Final.

"We were looking for some experience," Pens coach Michel Therrien said when asked why he put Sydor back in the lineup for Game 3 and will keep him there for Game 4 on Saturday night. "We could use some experience on the ice and on the bench, communicate really well with the players."

Sydor has worked to communicate his experience in the Final, and says going from a kid looking up to veterans to being one of those veterans whose guidance is relied upon by a new generation is a big change.

"When I was a kid (in 1993), you didn't know what to expect and you'd listen to your elders," he said. "Now I'm there, and you try to take your experience and help them mentally just be stronger."

Jordan Staal, who at 19 hadn't started kindergarten when Sydor played his first game in the Final, said having veterans with Cup Final experience is invaluable.

"You know you might not get too many more opportunities to play in the Stanley Cup Final," he said. "Coming from these guys – they know what it takes."

One thing Sydor says he can't communicate is the thrill of actually winning the Cup. It's something he hopes his teammates get to experience for themselves.

"I can't really explain what it's like to win one," he said. "I'm fortunate enough to have been there before, but it's something you can't describe.”

The kind of mental toughness that enabled Sydor to sit out every game since March 31 and come back with a solid effort in Game 3 of the Final wasn't lost on his teammates.

"He didn't play for so long, and I thought he had a hell of a game," said Whitney. "To sit out for 2½ months and then play in a Stanley Cup Final game is pretty impressive."

To Sydor, it was a matter of being ready and not trying to do too much.

"Probably the biggest adjustment was being forechecked and having to make plays, stuff like that," he said. "I had to stay positive, believe in myself and play a simple game."

Sydor knows this could be his final shot at another Stanley Cup ring. Trying to catch a team like the Red Wings after losing the first two games won't be easy, but he's glad for the chance.

"We have an opportunity," he said. "The team worked really hard to make it 2-1. Now we have to work extra hard in the next game. It's going to be very intense, and we've got to be ready."


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