"We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time"- T.S. Eliot
As you walk the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh (or "dahntahn" as us Pittsburgh often inadvertently refer to it as), your senses will light up with sights, sounds, and smells. College students laugh and hastily chase down Port Authority busses, businessmen share the same sidewalks as down on their luck jazz musicians, and the smell of authentic, unique foods remind you that you're at a place unlike any you've ever seen.
At any given day in the autumn, winter, and early spring, you'll see a uniting force. Men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds walking in unison uphill towards Centre Avenue towards a glowing, shining, dome. This unifying entity is Penguins hockey, and that building is it's home.
It's the building where childhood heroes have been made, champions have been born, dreams have been shared, burdens have been healed, and the ebb and flow of everyday life, hardships, and glory of Western Pennsylvania has been personified.
That building is Mellon Arena.
Last night, as Pittsburghers and Penguins fans, we said goodbye to our home away from home.
With cloudy eyes and emotions running high, the Pens paid tribute to iconic members of Penguins history. From players to coaches, the heroes of Pittsburgh hockey's past were heralded in a moving and classy ceremony that will live in the hearts of the Black and Gold forever.
Soon afterwards, the spotlight was given to the organization's champions of the present, as the Pens took the opening faceoff to do battle with the New York Islanders.
Despite the game's significance to Mellon Arena, it also held imperative consequences for Pittsburgh's season as well. With the Atlantic Division quickly slipping into New Jersey's grasp, every point has become paramount for the Flightless Birds.
- Blueliners Brooks Orpik and Alex Goligoski would score off of the opening faceoff and initial powerplay respectively. Orpik's goal came only 23 seconds into the contest, taking the elevated emotions of the arena to new heights.
- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury rebounded significantly in last night's after being pulled in Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Capitals. Unfortunately, his defense still has more leaks than Mellon Arena's retractable roof. The Penguins D is often out of sync, out of focus, and more worrisome, out of position.
- Sidney Crosby etched his 49th goal of the season, as he continues his bid for the NHL's goal scoring title. A potential 50th goal was credited to Bill Guerin. Still, career milestones were passed as Crosby notched his 500th career point, and Guerin notched another 20 goal season.
- Evgeni Malkin returned from sickness and injury in last night's game and looked like a man possessed. The defending Conn Smythe award winner will have to once again elevate his game in the postseason to ensue the Penguins' maximize their chance at repeating. If last night's game is any indication, Pens fans will be very content with what they receive from #71.
- Geno's linemate and the most current Pittsburgh Penguin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, continues to struggle and look out of place regardless of what talent he is lined up with. Poni and Ruslan Fedotenko both finished without a point and -1 ratings each, despite a solid performance from Malkin and the Pens scoring seven goals against New York. Fedotenko has earned his spot on Pittsburgh's roster by his postseason resume, but Poni must improve come playoff time. #23 was removed from the game late for a boarding call that had no place happening in a night filled with positive charisma and class.
- The New Jersey Devils lost 2-3 to the Florida Panthers in regulation, statistically tying them with the Pens for the division. Keep in mind, however, that if the teams end the season with identical point totals, New Jersey will earn the division title. New Jersey's remaining games are against the Islanders tomorrow night, and against the Buffalo Sabres, who also lost in regulation last night, Sunday afternoon. If the Pens can win their final two remaining games, than Jersey will have to do the same. Martin Brodeur and co. failing to do so, would net the defending champs the #2 seed in the playoffs, and home ice throughout the first two rounds, at least.
- Also concerning home ice advantage is the playoff implicated reward of last night's victory. The Penguins have now clinched home ice advantage in the playoffs and cannot begin the postseason seeded lower than fourth.
Penguins hockey has served us well over the years and last night, before, during, and after the game showed us that once again. Last night was not Mellon Arena's final game, despite its' emotional magnitude.
Our much-lauded success and pedigree as Penguins fans has been earned, not given. In both of the last two seasons, the team has encountered colossal adversity. In fact, so has the organization throughout it's history. From being the laughing stock of the league, to Mario, to Kansas City, to last summer's glory, last night's tears fell in happiness and tribute, because they fell in both sadness and rapture previously.
Mellon Arena is beaming with pride in it's final days. It stands as Pittsburgh's most iconic sports venue and one of it's most historic structures in city history. Last summer, it was filled with the glory of the Cup. Last night, it was filled with brilliant emotion. Whether or not Penguins fans are grizzled vets of the igloo, or the confines of Mellon earning it's place as a childhood home, it will have one more spring being filled with 17,000+ as the arena's storybook makes room for one more spring filled with that beautiful three word mantra:
Let's Go Pens