Penguins, Predators playing for one moment with the Cup

Sidney Crosby says he is not competing with Mario Lemieux for the number of Stanley Cups won -- they both have two -- but he sure does enjoy lifting it.
Sidney Crosby says he is not competing with Mario Lemieux for the number of Stanley Cups won — they both have two — but he sure does enjoy lifting it.  (Marcio Jose Sanchez / The Associated Press)  

PITTSBURGH—When Penguins winger Chris Kunitz got his day with the Stanley Cup last summer, he brought it home to Regina. It wasn’t so much winning the Cup for himself that mattered, it was what it meant to others close to him, the look in the eyes when they saw it up close: his family, his friends, his former coaches.

“You don’t sit down and just hang out with it. You package your day to do as much as possible because you want to share it with so many people that have helped you throughout your career,” Kunitz said Sunday.

“That’s the most rewarding part, to have a mite hockey coach come out and take a picture with you, and know he had a positive effect on your life and how you got here.”

The Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup final, against the Nashville Predators, starting Monday night (8. p.m., CBC).

The Penguins have a chance to win two Cups in a row, a feat that hasn’t happened since the Detroit Red Wings went back to back in 1997 and 1998.

Much is being said that Kunitz, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and injured defenceman Kris Letang — all on Pittsburgh’s 2009 Cup-winning team — have a chance to get their names engraved on the chalice a third time, eclipsing the Mario Lemieux-era Penguins. But these things don’t matter to players.

“I don’t look at it as far as comparing numbers of Cups,” Crosby said. “He (Lemieux) has two as an owner, two as a player. I look at it as a great opportunity to be back here. It’s not easy to get here . . . We knew it would be difficult, that there would be a lot of obstacles, but we found a way. It’s up to us to do something with it.”

For the players, winning the Cup is not about their personal legacies. It’s about the Cup itself.

“My record is Cups,” Malkin said. “I don’t think about points. It’s the team. Win back to back. My focus is on winning. It’s hard. We won’t win 4-0. I hope we do. Every game, you lose five pounds. You’re emotionally spent. It’s always hard.”

The Stanley Cup is 125 years old this year, just 25 years younger than Canada. The NHL has had it on a North American tour. Its dents, misspellings and the various ways it has been treated and mistreated by its victors have been featured prominently this season in TV ads promoting hockey. A documentary on the trophy is to be released Monday.

“If that thing could speak, the stories it could tell,” Crosby said. “Seeing all the names on it, and what it represents when you look at . . . It commands attention. It’s pretty special. What guys have gone through, and played through, to get it. The experiences with it after . . . the joy that comes along with winning it.”

That’s why the Penguins want to win it again. That’s why the Predators want to win it for a first time.

“It’s something you always dream about, you always want to get to this point,” Nashville forward Filip Forsberg said. “Here we are.”

No Predator has tasted beer, champagne or, for that matter, cereal from the silver bowl of the Stanley Cup. They haven’t had a newborn sit in it. They haven’t thrown it in a pool. They haven’t left it at the side of the road.

But they each want to raise it, to have their day with it, to have their names on it, to make their history with it.

“Two of the most memorable points in my life (are my) two trips to the finals,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette, who won the Cup coaching Carolina and lost it as coach of the Flyers. “One of them I’ll hold close to my heart, and one of them hurts.

“But that’s a great feeling, to be able to be here and to compete.”