The puck is about to drop

It doesn’t seem like four months have passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins last took to the ice.

But that final game of the 2015-16 season was memorable for fans around the Tri-State Area, for it was late on the evening of June 12 that the Penguins defeated San Jose 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup, the fourth in the history of the franchise.

We’ll remember that Kris Letang scored what would be the winning goal and that a rookie goaltender, Matt Murray, capped an incredible playoff run by making 18 saves in that Game 6 win. The memories of Marc Andre Fleury, the man who Murray supplanted as the starting goalie, and Coach Mike Sullivan, who took his spot behind the bench after Mike Johnston was fired when the team got off to a slow start, hoisting the Cup are still fresh in our minds, as is the team’s victory parade through downtown Pittsburgh, which attracted as many as 400,000 fans from across the region.

That parade, which was held June 15, came seven years to the day of the parade after the team won the 2009 Cup.

Pittsburgh will celebrate the most recent championship when it opens the 2016-17 season at home at 8 p.m. Thursday. The opponent will be the Washington Capitals, one of the team’s great rivals during regular-season play and in the playoffs.

The season shapes up as a special one for the Penguins, who will be marking their 50th year in the National Hockey League, a history that also saw the Stanley Cup come to our area after the 1991, 1992 and 2009 seasons. Their home will have a new name, PPG Paints Arena, an announcement made just last week when Consol Energy, which had held the naming rights to the arena since it opened in 2010, announced a change in its corporate strategy.

Winning a single Stanley Cup is considered by many to be one of the most difficult achievements in sports. A team has to survive the grind of an 80-game regular-season schedule and then win 16 playoff games. That makes winning back-to-back Cups an incredible task, but as fans in our region have seen, a goal that can be obtained.

There’s a lot of hockey to played between Thursday and the middle of next June, and that run will get under way Thursday when Mike Lange, the team’s longtime play-by-play man takes his place behind the microphone and sends his familiar greeting:

“It’s a hockey night in Pittsburgh.”

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