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Pens raise 2017 Stanley Cup banner to the rafters

by Jeff Carpenter @penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

On Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated their 2017 Stanley Cup victory by raising their championship banner to the rafters - their fifth such historic piece of fabric in franchise history.

With the fans in their seats, the arena turned the lights down as the excitement, noise, and anticipation among the 18,652 in attendance - a standing-room only sellout - built up.

It didn't take long for a chant of "Let's Go Pens!" to radiate throughout the building, setting the tone for what was a palpable atmosphere from the get-go.

Paul Steigerwald emceed the beginning of the festivities, alluding to how this was the first team in the salary cap era to repeat.

"This group didn't just overcome adversity," Steigerwald said. "They thrived on it."

The crowd erupted, which is something that could be said a lot during the pre-game festivities.

First came an exciting laser show, where a myriad of colors splashed both on the ice and throughout the upper and lower bowls, thanks to the interactive bracelets that were distributed to each seat.

The bracelets flashed yellow and white throughout the evening, and glimmered red, white, and blue as Jeff Jimerson sang the national anthem.

Following the luminous presentation was a video tribute on the scoreboard, depicting the Penguins' memorable year and their march through the playoffs.

The video began in San Jose, looking back at the Penguins celebrating the 2016 Stanley Cup win at the SAP Center. The video transitioned to various highlights of the 2016-17 regular season before chronicling the team's 2017 Stanley Cup journey, with stops in Columbus, Washington, Ottawa, and Nashville along the way. It concluded with the Penguins celebrating the Stanley Cup in the locker room, capped with champagne, smiles, cheers, and Lord Stanley.

The loudest crowd response came from a shot of Marc-Andre Fleury handing the cup over to goaltender Matt Murray at Bridgestone Arena.

Now the Penguins' No. 1 netminder, Murray started in his first career season opener - which is surreal to think about, considering he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion - and turned away 29 of 34 shots.

"It was awesome, it was really cool to watch that banner go up," Murray said. "It's great, it's a big celebration we earned, but we tried to put it behind us right away."

The crowd rose to its feet and provided head coach Mike Sullivan with a lengthy standing ovation, prompting a smile from the coach. When Mario Lemieux was announced, the crowd's cheers went to a new level as they showed their appreciation for the Penguins owner and legend who now has enough rings to fill a whole hand.

Then came the player introductions, which was highlighted by Sidney Crosby emerging from the tunnel with the Stanley Cup, raising it above his head and then placing it on a podium at center ice. Lifting the trophy for the fans for a second-straight year is something they appreciate, considering none of the Penguins' five championships have been won on home ice.

 "Crosby bringing the Cup on the ice, and the way they framed it with the banner going up was perfect," Les Lee said. "I thought the energy here was great. It was fantastic. That's what the Penguins are about, high energy hockey, and tonight really resembled that."

The anticipation only grew as the 2017 Stanley Cup banner was slowly unraveled with the Stanley Cup framed at the foot of the scene. The applause didn't wave and cameras didn't stop flickering, and just as the banner was reaching the rafters, the St. Louis Blues emerged from the locker room - serving as a pleasant reminder that there was still a game to be played and a new season set to get underway.

After the banner raising ceremony wrapped up, the puck dropped on the Penguins' 2017-18 regular season. Pittsburgh battled back from a two-goal deficit in the 3rd period but ultimately fell to the Blues, 5-4, in overtime.

"It's special to be able to do that and see the banner raise," Crosby said. "To share that with the fans and some of the guys who were here last year. It's good, you can turn the page and move on now. but I think that's always a special moment."

Fans who were itching to get back to their second home and enjoy Penguins hockey certainly agreed. A few of them provided their perspective of the special night, documenting how electrifying the energy in the building really was leading up to the game, and how it left a lasting impression on them.

"I thought both (ceremonies were) good, but this year was really great," Greg Wlahofsky said. "The wrist bands, involving us in the light show, I thought it was cool and how it was coordinated was awesome."

"The video was nice," Eric Meuschke said. "It brought back a lot of really good memories."

After questions surfaced last year about whether the Penguins could repeat in the salary cap era, they did, and now the ante has been upped to a possible three-peat. It had been an emotional week leading up to the banner raising ceremony and Wednesday's game, as the players received their rings on Monday.

Sullivan wants the feeling of the ring ceremony and tonight's presentation to ignite the feeling that thrice would be just as nice.

"I think it should inspire us to watch ourselves with some of the highlight reels they watched (Monday) night and the banner raising," Sullivan said. "For me, it's a real remembrance that it's all worth it. All the sacrifice and the commitment that you make to try to achieve the ultimate goal is worth it. And we've got a group that's capable."

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