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Pens' first-timers can't wait for Final debut

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

It took almost 15 years, parts of 16 professional seasons and 907 regular-season games, but Ron Hainsey is closer than he's ever been to that Stanley Cup which has eluded him his entire career up to this point.

The 36-year-old defenseman will make his Stanley Cup Final debut in Game 1 against the Nashville Predators on Monday at 8 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.

"I don't think I've gone out and sunk teams for 14 years previous to this year," Hainsey told reporters at Media Day on Sunday. "Just the teams, that's the way they've gone. You go out and play every game hoping to win it, and at the end of the year you add up the points and the top 16 teams get in and the other guys don't. I'm very appreciative of this opportunity this year and it's been great. We're close to something pretty amazing."

And so far, it's certainly been so good in Hainsey's first-ever postseason.

"I was telling him the other day, 'you're undefeated. You've never lost a series,'" defenseman Trevor Daley joked. "That's a pretty good record so far. He's doing well."

Hainsey is someone the Pens repeatedly reference when discussing how difficult it is to get to this point and how they can't take it for granted. Especially the younger players that have been fortunate enough to already make two Final appearances.

"If you're here you have to give it your best shot because for a lot of us it's early in our career, you never know if you'll get back to this point again," defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. "You never want to let an opportunity slip.

"Look at a guy like Ron Hainsey , who's been in this league for so long and this has been his only chance to get a Stanley Cup and play in the playoffs. You can go your whole career and not get this opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup, especially back-to-back. I think we have a lot of hungry guys in our locker room that want this opportunity."

That hunger was intensified for players like Daley and forward Scott Wilson, who got a taste last year as they did not get to skate in the Final due to injury - but did get to put on their gear and take a lap with the Cup after the Pens beat San Jose in six games.

After the Pens beat Ottawa in double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to advance, Daley let himself reflect on the team making it back to this point so quickly.

"Just last game, after the (Chris) Kunitz goal, just kind of thinking about finally getting a chance to do this," Daley said. "And it being so soon after, it feels like we were just here doing this last year. It's obviously really special and I'm going to try and take full advantage of it."

Then finally, for the rookies on the roster, it's an absolute dream come true to be at this point right now and this situation has certainly been full of 'pinch me' moments.

"This is a unique situation for me," forward Jake Guentzel said. "First year, to get to the Stanley Cup Final, it's crazy. Something you dream about. We're just trying to make the most of this and have fun with it because it doesn't come around very often. Just trying to soak it all in every day."

Carter Rowney may not have had to wait as long as Hainsey for this chance, but he still dealt with his fair share of adversity in getting to this point and certainly has an appreciation for being here.

"There's a lot of excitement. Who would have thought I'd be here right now?" he said. "Just taking it day by day and trying to prepare myself as best I can and at the same time, I'm just trying to soak it all in and enjoy it."

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