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Stanley Cup loss a learning experience for Pens

by Adam Kimelman / Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and the Penguins now have first-hand experience of the mental and physical aspects of a Stanley Cup run.

As the start of the 2008-09 NHL season approaches, the hockey world will give its predictions for the coming season. Most will peg the Pittsburgh Penguins to finish high in the standings, based on the experience they gained in their run to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.

The players will be gunning to get at least as far as they got last season, with the goal being to take that last step, the one that ends with them parading the Stanley Cup around an arena.

History, though, says the Penguins will have a difficult time even getting out of the first round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Only once since 1996 has the team that lost in the Stanley Cup Final won a playoff series in the following postseason. And of the 12 championship-round losing teams prior to the 2008 Penguins, four missed the following postseason entirely.

So what can the Penguins do to buck the trend? For starters, ignore history.

"I don't think you can really worry about it," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told NHL.com. "You have to look at things short-term. When you go that far, you start the next season thinking we have to get back there. That's where everyone wants to be. But the process of the season doesn't change because you were there the year before. You have to have a good start. There are different points of the season, whether it be longer road trips or a stretch of divisional games, there are certain points that are big. You have to realize and recognize what they are, the same as you would the year before. If anything, you have to use the experience you've gained to your advantage."

Crosby said what he and his teammates learned was that the biggest success comes from the doing the smallest things.

"We really realized how demanding the playoffs are," said Crosby. "What it takes as a team, the little details it takes to be successful. Not just the playoffs; you have to look at the regular season. We faced a lot of adversity, we had a lot of injuries, and we got through that. You have to go through a lot of different points in the season and different scenarios in the playoffs in order to be successful, and we saw the results from that."

For Jordan Staal, it wasn't so much keeping up with the physical side of the game, but handling the mental demands of playing hard from training camp in September through the Cup Final in June.

"It's a long season and mentally it is tough to be prepared for every game and that is something I improved on a lot – just being ready for every game and playing strong," he said. "Also, obviously, how close your team has to be to make it that far. Everybody has to be on the same page and working for the same goal. I believe we had a team that was doing that last year and that is why we had some good success."

Since 1995, only one team has lost in the Stanley Cup Final and won a postseason series the next season. Here's a list of the last 12 Cup finalists and how they did the following postseason:
2007 Ottawa Lost first round of
2008 Playoffs
2006 Edmonton Missed 2007 Playoffs
2004 Calgary Lost first round of
2006 Playoffs
2003 Anaheim Missed 2004 Playoffs
2002 Carolina Missed 2003 Playoffs
2001 New Jersey Lost first round of
2002 Playoffs
2000 Dallas Lost second round of
2001 Playoffs
1999 Buffalo Lost first round of
2000 Playoffs
1998 Washington Missed 1999 Playoffs
1997 Philadelphia Lost first round of
1998 Playoffs
1996  Florida Lost  first round of
1997 Playoffs
1995 Detroit Lost 1996 Western Conference Finals
Some of the players who had a part in that success have moved on – forwards Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Georges Laraque and backup goalie Ty Conklin – but the core players, centers Crosby, Staal and Evgeni Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, remain in place.

"We lost a few players this summer, but we picked up quite a few and we still have that core group that brought us to the Final," said Staal. "I believe that we still have a very strong team and obviously we can do it all over again."

Helping in that will be new additions Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Cooke. Satan played in the 1999 Cup Final with Buffalo and Fedotenko won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa Bay, but Cooke has won just one playoff series in his career, and Satan and Fedotenko languished last season with the New York Islanders. They should be hungry for a taste of postseason success that their new teammates enjoyed last season.

"That's important (having new guys)," said Crosby, "but it's really important that the guys who were there before stress how important it is for us to get back to that same place. For any new guy coming in, they'll see it right away. Whether they feel it or they don't, they're going to realize there's only one direction we want to go and that's up."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com


Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer

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