Forget goodbye cards, the Penguins went with red lights – and lots of them.
One day after their captain and owner, Mario Lemieux, retired from the NHL, the Pittsburgh Penguins gave him quite a parting gift Wednesday night – an 8-1 thrashing of the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena.
The Mellon Arena scoreboard’s video screens were abuzz with some of the most-exciting moments from Lemieux’s 17-year NHL career. With 11:19 remaining in the first period, an in-depth video highlight package of Lemieux’s career was shown on the scoreboard. Afterward, Lemieux, who was sitting in his luxury box with his wife Nathalie, appeared on the screen and those in attendance gave a standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Even the officials clapped and Washington Capitals players tapped their sticks on the ice in tribute to No. 66.
It certainly seemed to rally his former teammates as they stormed to the triumph.
“It was a nice tribute from the players to Mario,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “I really appreciate that.”
If Lemieux’s presence alone wasn’t enough to motivate the Penguins, his emotional farewell speech Tuesday certainly gave the team some extra motivation. Especially rookie Sidney Crosby, who produced the first four-point night of his NHL career.
“It’s very special. The message he gave us [Tuesday] to enjoy every moment hit a lot of guys hard and, sometimes, we need to be taken aback like that and realize we are fortunate to be playing in the NHL and living a dream,” the 18-year-old phenom said. “For us, maybe that was a little extra motivation. We realize he is going to be missed on and off the ice, but I think that a lot of us have to step up because of that. We’re never going to fill that absence, but if we can come close to that, we’ll be all right.”
The victory snapped the Penguins’ 10-game winless slump.
“It’s well-deserved. I don’t think it’s anything that was a fluke or happened overnight. We’ve been putting a lot of work in and trying to improve ourselves,” Crosby said. “We had a great night, obviously, with a lot of things going our way. Early on in the game, we had a lot of penalties and were faced with some adversity, but we got through it and capitalized on our chances.”