The Cup or Bust

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- No matter how many gooey octopi come raining down at them from the Joe Louis Arena rafters, these Pittsburgh Penguins will not be intimidated by anyone or anything.

Not even the explosive Detroit Red Wings.

Led by captain Sidney Crosby, the Penguins have rocketed to a berth in the Stanley Cup final just two years after being the second-worst team in the NHL.

And, quite frankly, they will consider this rags-to-riches journey unsuccessful if they don't complete the mission in the next few weeks.

It's The Cup or Bust for these guys, a credo that was on display after they eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in the Eastern Conference final.

Not only did the Pens not touch the Prince of Wales Trophy, they would not even allow it in their dressing room.

The only hockey hardware they want to hoist is the Cup. And here are a number of reasons why they might just achieve the feat.

THE CROSBY SHOW

In the coming days there will be gobs of copy written about Sid the Kid and his meteoric rise to the top of the hockey world. But the story that is very much unfolding isn't about the 21 points he has racked up; instead it focuses on his defensive prowess. It was on display in Sunday's 6-0 victory when Crosby broke up a potential Mike Richards breakaway, then went the other way to set up a Marian Hossa goal. "That is why he is our captain," coach Michel Therrien said.

MALKIN'S MAGIC

The Red Wings have yet to face such a dynamic 1-2 punch like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Malkin went three games without a goal against the Flyers, igniting media speculation that he was either hurt or simply falling victim to tight post-season checking. The Hart Trophy finalist responded by scoring Pittsburgh's second goal in their series clincher.

"It is very interesting to hear what has been said about me because I didn't (know about it)," Malkin said. Now that he does know, will it provide him with extra motivation?

THESE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Young legs are fresher legs this deep into the playoffs, and the Penguins have plenty of them. With Jordan Staal, 19, Crosby, 20, Malkin, 21 and Marc-Andre Fleury, 23, the Pens have one of the top foundations of young players in the NHL. And here is the scary part: They have performed with a maturity far beyond their years in this 2008 post-season, going an eye-popping 12-2 through the first three rounds.

HOME SWEET HOME

Across the street from the Mellon Arena is a muddy lot that in two years will be the site of the Pens sparkling new rink. Given the way the Pens have dominated on home ice the past three months, perhaps staying put at The Igloo wouldn't be such a bad thing. The Pens have not lost at home since Feb. 24, a run that has seen them go 16-0 at Mellon including 8-0 in the playoffs.

NO MAID MARIAN

They can not slag Hossa any more for disappearing a la Jimmy Hoffa when the playoffs come around. The veteran winger has become the ultimate big-game player this spring. He scored twice including the overtime winner to eliminate the Rangers 3-2 in Game 5 of the second round, then followed it up with a four-point night Sunday to help dispose of the Flyers. "It's a dream come true, being traded and going to the Stanley Cup final," Hossa said.

A PITT STATE OF MIND

With players like Pascal Dupuis, Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone, the Pens have plenty of scoring depth behind the likes of Hossa, Crosby and Malkin. No one is hungrier and more appreciative of the chance to win the Cup in his native Pittsburgh than Malone, the son of former Pen Greg Malone who used to watch the team play from the Mellon Arena stands. "There have been ups and downs here, so this means a lot," Malone said. "But the job is not finished."

MICHEL IS SWELL

It's about time Therrien gets the credit he deserves. Early in his tenure in Pittsburgh, he went on a sarcastic tirade suggesting the Pens were trying to become the worst defensive team in the league. Now they are anything but. Anyone that can turn Sergei Gonchar into a defensively responsible blueliner deserves kudos. Therrien's team can win any way you want to play it, either with smothering defence or by lighting up the scoreboard.

THE PUCK STOPS HERE

Fleury's smile can light up a room, and he's been doing a lot of that lately. With three playoff shutouts, he's come a long way from the high ankle sprain that kept him out for a couple of months during the season. "This is fun," he said. Let's see if it stays that way against the Wings.


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