DETROIT -- The Pittsburgh Penguins woke up as NHL champions yesterday after they completed their march to greatness.
As the Stanley Cup final wrapped up Friday with the Penguins' incredible 2-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings in a dramatic Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena, it was an "out with the old and in with the new scenario" as they prepare to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1992.
Trying to win their fifth Cup since 1997, the Wings were on the verge of quietly becoming a dynasty, especially if they had been able to repeat as champions. Instead, it was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the young Penguins who are instant heroes.
"This is everything you imagine and more," said Crosby, 21, the youngest captain to hoist the Cup. "It's a dream come true."
But, there were times during the season, and this series, the dream didn't look like a reality. Sitting at No. 10 in the East when general manager Ray Shero decided to fire the unpopular Michel Therrien as coach and replace him with unknown Dan Bylsma, not many would have bet on this team winning the Cup.
While the Penguins made tremendous strides under Bylsma, their trip through the post-season wasn't easy either. They had to come back from being down 3-2 to the Washington Capitals and pull off a Game 7 victory on the road to make it past Round 2.
Then, there was the final itself. Down 2-0 after the series started in Detroit, the Penguins came back with a pair of victories at home. The Pens then were blown out 5-0 in Game 5 a week ago in the Motor City before back-to-back wins to welcome in a new era.
"I knew the quality of players that we had and the team that we had," said Bylsma, hired on Feb. 15. "(I did) think that this was a team that could win a Stanley Cup, but not this particular year. I didn't think that. Even though they're young, they have a lot of character.
"We just got them focused in a different direction. The game is meant to be played aggressively and in-your-face.
"I'm a little surprised how quick they bought in and how quick they got it, but I'm not surprised how good they've become."
The question is: Are the Penguins going to be good for a lot of years?
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who saved the day by diving in front of a shot by Detroit defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left in Game 7 to preserve the Cup, finally will be viewed as an elite netminder.
Crosby's play goes without saying. Malkin had a standout playoff and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP. A character guy like Maxime Talbot stepped up with two goals when the club needed it the most -- especially with Crosby nursing a knee injury -- in Game 7.
There are going to be challenges in a salary cap world to keep this team together, but Crosby and Malkin are both signed to long-term contracts. A winning program could convince other players to choose Pittsburgh for less money.
"This team has the chance to be good for a lot of years," said winger Bill Guerin, who was brought in at the trade deadline to help the young Pens down the stretch.
This win may have meant most to Crosby. This has been expected of him since the Penguins drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005. He now has achieved what was expected of him and can do it again.
"It means so much," Crosby said. "It goes way beyond that. It's all the sacrifices people make so you can get to this point. It's the people that influence you. These are the things that you think about."
Not a bad year for Steeltown: A Super Bowl and now a Stanley Cup. The people of Pittsburgh could easily learn to love a parade.