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Stanley Cup Final

Trevor Daley excited Penguins got back to Stanley Cup Final so fast

Defenseman missed 2016 championship round after injuring ankle in conference final

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley couldn't stop smiling Sunday.

For the second year in a row, he was sitting in a pod answering questions at Stanley Cup Final Media Day.

But the circumstances of the 2016 experience and the one Sunday could not have been more different for Daley.

 

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This time, Daley strode purposefully to his position and welcomed all manner of questions. This time last year, Daley, his left ankle in a walking boot, hobbled on crutches to his station and tried to explain the pain of not being able to play in his first Stanley Cup Final.

"I like this one a little better; this is a lot better here," Daley said during his 20-minute availability at PPG Paints Arena, site of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Daley wasn't sure this moment would come. He knew the Penguins were good again this season, but if he learned anything at all last season, it was how capricious this game can be.

Video: Hear what Daley has to say before the Final

The best teams, the most deserving players, don't always make it to the final round. The Penguins have eliminated the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round the past two seasons, each time after Washington had earned the No. 1 seed with the best regular-season record in the NHL. Kris Letang, Pittsburgh's best defenseman, has missed the entirety of the 2017 postseason after having surgery for a herniated disc in his neck April 13.

The playoffs are a cruel business, so there was no guarantee that the Penguins would be on this stage again during Daley's tenure with them, however long it lasted.

"I'm excited that we got back here this fast," Daley said.

He's excited to layer new memories atop the mixed memories from last June.

Not only was Daley rehabbing his ankle, but he was tending to his sick mother, Trudy, who was dying of cancer at home in Toronto.

Daley attended Pittsburgh's home playoff games after sustaining his injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. When the Penguins were away, he traveled to spend time with his mom.

"I got to really appreciate the chance to spend more time with her," Daley said.

He was on the ice after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup with a Game 6 road victory against the San Jose Sharks. He was able to make his way onto the ice, to be the first player to receive the trophy from captain Sidney Crosby. It was the fulfillment of a final wish of his mother.

For him, those pluses were the silver lining during one of the most trying times of his life.

Video: Daley discusses return to Stanley Cup Final

Now, he gets to play in a Final, a dream he has harbored since he first started playing hockey and a burning desire he has battled since being sidelined.

"Obviously, it is bittersweet. I wanted to be a part of this last year," Daley said. "I wanted to be out there on the ice, but obviously injuries happen and that is part of our game.

"But from the time we beat Tampa last year and we were coming to this point, I have been thinking about [playing in another Final]; I don't know how many times, but there haven't been many days I haven't thought about what it would be like to get back and play in a game. It's pretty cool to be here."

His teammates and coach are almost as happy for Daley as Daley is for himself. They know how long the journey has been for Daley and they know the depth of joy from winning the Cup that Daley felt only partially entitled to last year.

"We each know each other's stories because we are like a family because we are together so much," forward Chris Kunitz said.

Mike Sullivan, the Penguins coach, is happy this opportunity has been afforded to Daley the person, but he is happier it has been afforded to Daley the hockey player because the Penguins need Daley the hockey player to win another Stanley Cup. He believes Daley's hunger helps to keep the other players grounded and focused.

"I think now that he's healthy and he has the chance to play in the Final, I'm sure that he's thrilled," Sullivan said. "We're certainly thrilled to have him."

And Daley is thrilled to be back with a chance to contribute directly to a championship this time.

"[Winning] makes for a really special summer," Daley said. "I don't mind being greedy and having another special summer."

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