Following Game 2 of the final, we began what now feels like annual trek...Detroit to Pittsburgh, and back, and back, and, this year, back again.
Upon entering the Keystone state, signage above I-76 read: "You are on the road to the Stanley Cup." Given the Wings were already up by two in the series, it seemed as though this sign may well have been predicting the end for the home side of Games 3 and 4.
But as we were reminded time and again since February, these Penguins were too good and too proud to go quietly into the night.
The one thing they are not is too young. And that was just another reason this Stanley Cup was a joy for the NHL Network to cover.
As machine-like as the Red Wings were a year ago - and what an eye-opener it was to be around them on a daily basis - this year's Penguins squad was unique.
And at times ridiculously superstitious.
From what they wore - Ray Shero said they've gone through a lot of ties and suits - to who they talked to before games - Max Talbot was infatuated with Gary Green, but those conversations ended after a Game 5 drubbing - to the constant switching of team hotels; three different ones for the Pens in Detroit. Even certain parents were not invited to the Joe for Game 7 - has anyone seen the Malkins? And who ended up in their seats?
It all paid off, though, making for not only a memorable run, but the start of something bigger.
Would it be wrong to think the Penguins may have a dynasty in the making?
Who else has a core group this young and, now, this battle tested?
Speaking of battles, here's a few behind-the-scenes (and some on-air) events that made for plenty of laughs and an enjoyable two weeks between The City of Bridges and Motown.
• Take your seats, the show is about to begin!
What do you mean it’s standing room only?
It's funny how you can broadcast from the exact same spot in each arena two years in a row, yet no one seemed to be able to remember whether we needed chairs or not.
Indeed, the scramble was on half an hour before our first show, but in the end, the seating arrangements arrived too late. Cup winners and co-hosts Larry Murphy and Bob Errey, along with yours truly, were forced to stand...can you imagine the complaining?!?
(If you don’t believe former athletes are high maintenance, ask Murph if the Joe needs better air conditioning on the third floor...)
• Don't worry; I got the next round...
If you're ever in Pittsburgh, Southside specifically, and are in sort of a charitable mood, just head on over to Jack's and buy everyone a round. It'll likely only cost you $25 and that's not because the place is empty. Far from it.
Consider it a good spot for a team-building exercise. When everyone can afford to buy a drink for 25 people, it's a good thing!
The establishment, however, lacks in regards to any sort of coat check.
If you see anyone other than Errey walking around Pittsburgh with an NHL Network pullover/windbreaker, it's probably mine.
• Jacket drama continues…
Getting from the auxiliary press box, up near the ceiling of Mellon Arena, and down to our broadcast level just off the main concourse can be a challenge late in the game largely because of crowd volume. Throw in an ounce of panic and, well, even Murph starts to sweat despite it being 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, the Hall of Famer lost his suit jacket somewhere in the press box during Game 3. We didn't ask how, but were all thankful he found it come show time.
• Happy birthday, Terry!
The Capital Grille had to love the Penguins run this year.
I can't imagine a Monday in June being busier than the one prior to Game 3.
NHL staff, top prospects for the upcoming draft, Red Wings management, a number of Red Wings players and some Penguins, too. Not to mention a large contingent of officials and two tables worth of network-TV types had the place hopping. The Versus crew (Bob Harwood, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Engblom, Keith Jones, Chris Simpson) capped the evening by getting all of us to sing Happy 70th Birthday to Terry Gregson.
A rousing rendition was met by an incredibly red-faced Gregson staring at his cake with sparkler, wondering who was responsible.
It didn't take him long to find the Versus table, who, of course, had told many of us, but probably not the wait staff, that it wasn't Terry's birthday at all!
Gregson turns 56 in November.
• The best on-air performance goes to...
Fitting that a former Pen, and current team analyst for FSN, would prove the final is no place for chokers.
Poor Bob Errey lost his voice and was coughing like crazy during our last commercial break of the pre-game show heading into Game 5 in Detroit.
Back on camera now, we usually use the last two minutes of the show to get a final thought from our team of analysts. Coaxing one out of Greener and Murph was no problem, but then came Bobby's turn. He looked like he'd swallowed a pretzel that had got stuck half way down. But somehow, without the luxury of oxygen or well-lubricated vocal chords, he surged forward on his chair and pushed out an emphatic few words, "Nik Kronwall has to step up!"
Red-faced now, and seemingly in need of medical attention, Bobby had made his point, given us all a great laugh and, thankfully, survived the night and the series. Ironically, Kronwall did have a strong performance that night.
• Other than the Detroit fans who cheered Sidney Crosby's injury and booed him ungraciously during the Cup presentation, this final was full of impressive performances. I can't say enough good things about Ray Shero. He is a gentleman and a pro and deserves to have his name on the Cup with his father.
Mike Babcock showed an incredible ability and willingness to play the media game day in and day out. He toyed with us sometimes, finding ways to answer the same questions differently, but showed a genuine concern for Michigan residents crippled by economic woes.
Babcock knew the importance of this run for the psyche of the city and state and for the wallets of those who work at the Joe Louis Arena. And although he couldn’t give them championship T-shirts, Babcock and the Wings gave Detroit as many games as possible.
• To the many of you, and there were many, who took the time to say hello and thank us for giving you the hockey coverage you crave, on behalf of all of us who work at the NHL Network, we say thank you for your love of the game and that it's our pleasure to serve you.
Thank you Red Wings. Thank you Penguins. And congratulations to the City of Champions!
Brian Duff is a host of On The Fly on the NHL Network. Like his minor hockey days (playing goalie, defense and forward) his broadcasting career has been all over the map. In radio and TV from Medicine Hat to Edmonton, Toronto to Ottawa and back, Brian has been with the NHL Network since 2007 and has been covering the game for nearly 15 years. Read more of his THN.com Blog HERE.