March of the Penguins

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“It would have been tough to leave such a good hockey town with the support we were receiving at the time,” Malone said. “For some reason, people were dragging their feet, but they finally got the rink deal done. It would have been crazy to think at the end of this year we would be going somewhere else.”

Despite the tumult, Pittsburgh hockey has a bright future. The team is four wins away from reaching the sport’s pinnacle, and the franchise is blessed with a young group of players drawing comparisons to the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.

Across the street from Mellon, there is a pile of rubble from a recently imploded building. In that very spot, construction soon will begin on a new arena, which the Penguins hope will open in time for the 2010-11 season and improve revenues enough to help retain much of their precocious nucleus.

Given the new economic landscape of the post-lockout NHL, keeping everyone together for an Edmonton-esque run will likely prove impossible.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us. But it’s a good challenge in the fact that’s based upon having some very good talent here. It’s something that we’re prepared for,” Shero said. “I think we have a great thing going. I think we’re set up long-term. But that will take care of itself after the season. That’s when we’re going to start addressing it.”

One thing is for certain, the franchise has come a long way in two years.

“I look back when I was hired in May of [2006], maybe even halfway through our first year, I just moved into our house,” Shero said. “I’ve told the story where my wife didn’t go about buying drapes and curtains, not certain if we were going to be here for the second year, whether the team was going to be sold or moved. [There was] a lot of uncertainty.”

PENGUINS TIMELINE

June 1, 1992 — Pittsburgh sweeps the Chicago Blackhawks to capture a second straight Stanley Cup.

Jan. 12, 1993 Mario Lemieux announces he has Hodgkin’s disease.

May 14, 1993 — Despite Lemieux’s return to spark an NHL-record 17-game winning streak near the end of the regular season, the New York Islanders win Game 7 of the Patrick Division finals in overtime in one of the biggest series upsets in league history.

June 1, 1996 — The Florida Panthers upset the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in a year when Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr became only the second set of teammates to top 60 goals.

April 6, 1997 Lemieux announces he will retire at the end of the season.

Sept. 3, 1999 Lemieux’s ownership group officially takes control of the team, ending rumors of a possible move after the franchise’s second time in bankruptcy.

Dec. 27, 2000 Lemieux returns to the ice after a 44-month retirement, scores 76 points in 43 games and leads the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the New Jersey Devils.

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