Pens look ahead to another Cup

Can it really be that nearly four months have passed?

It was late in the evening of June 11 that Tri-State Area fans last had the chance to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins play, and the memories of that late spring evening remain fresh in our minds.

We still can see Patric Hornqvist scoring the goal with just 1:35 left to play in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals that gave his team a 1-0 lead, and the goal by Carl Hagelin with 14 seconds left that secured the 2-0 win over Nashville and gave the Penguins their second National Hockey League championship in a row and fifth overall.

The sights and sounds of the team’s victory parade on June 14, which attracted an estimated crowd of more than 650,000 people to downtown — one of the largest crowds to ever attend such an event — linger in our minds.

All of those memories likely will flood back when the Penguins celebrate that title and open their 2017-18 season at 8 p.m. today in a match against St. Louis in PPG Paints Arena.

Winning a Stanley Cup is considered to be one of the most difficult achievements in any sport. A team has to survive a grueling 82-game regular-season schedule and then win 16 playoff games to claim the championship. That makes winning back-to-back titles difficult — the last team to accomplish it before Pittsburgh was Detroit, which captured the Cup in 1997 and 1998.

Even though several members of last year’s team have moved on — including goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley — a solid core led by Sydney Crosby and Evengi Malkin is poised to make a run at a third-straight championship, something not accomplished since the New York Islanders won four straight titles in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983.

That’s something to look forward to next June, but for now, it will be good once again to hear that familiar greeting from longtime announcer Mike Lange:

“It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh.”