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Team history[ edit ] Early years — [ edit ] Before the Penguins, Pittsburgh had been the home of the NHL's Pirates from to and of the American Hockey League Hornets franchise from to with a short break from to In the spring of , Jack McGregor , a state senator from Kittanning , began lobbying campaign contributors and community leaders to bring an NHL franchise back to Pittsburgh.
The group focused on leveraging the NHL as an urban renewal tool for Pittsburgh. The senator formed a group of local investors that included H. Heinz Company heir H. The projected league expansion depended on securing votes from the then-current NHL owners ; to ensure that Pittsburgh would be selected as one of the expansion cities, McGregor enlisted Rooney to petition votes from James D.
The effort was successful, and on February 8, , the National Hockey League awarded an expansion team to Pittsburgh for the —68 season. The Civic Arena 's capacity was then boosted from 10, to 12, to meet the NHL requirements for expansion.
The Pens also paid an indemnification bill to settle with the Detroit Red Wings, which owned the Pittsburgh Hornets franchise. The arena served as the Penguins' home arena from to A contest was held where of 26, entries picked "Penguins" as the nickname for the team.
Mark Peters had the winning entry which was inspired by the fact that the team was to play in the "Igloo", the nickname of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena ,   a logo was chosen that had a penguin in front of a triangle, which symbolized the " Golden Triangle " of downtown Pittsburgh.
The Pens, along with the rest of the expansion teams, were hampered by restrictive rules which kept most major talent with the existing " Original Six " teams.
Beyond aging sniper Andy Bathgate , All-Star defenseman Leo Boivin who had begun his professional career with the Hornets and Ranger veteran Earl Ingarfield , the first Penguins team was largely manned by a cast of former minor leaguers. George Sullivan was named the head coach for the club's first two seasons, and McDonald was named the team's first captain.
On October 11, , league president Clarence Campbell and McGregor jointly dropped the ceremonial first puck of the Penguins' opening home game against the Montreal Canadiens. However, the Penguins went 27—34—13 and finished in fifth place in the West Division, missing the playoffs and ending with the third worst record in the league.
Bathgate led the team in scoring with 59 points, but retired at season's end. McDonald, who led the team in goals and was second in team scoring, was also gone at season's end, traded to the St.
Louis Blues in exchange for center Lou Angotti.
The next season, —69 , saw the team slip in the standings in the midst of a sharp drop in form by Binkley, into sixth place and with the league's worst record. Several changes were made to try to improve the team, resulting in Boivin and several others being traded, and new players—including longtime future Pens star Jean Pronovost —making their debuts.
No captain was named to replace McDonald, and the team went with four alternate captains. Schinkel was again the team's lone All-Star. Triumph of playoff berths and tragedy of Briere — [ edit ] Michel Briere 's number was taken out of circulation after his career-ending accident in It was later formally retired in In the draft the Penguins selected Michel Briere who although being chosen 26th soon was drawing comparisons to Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke.
Joining the team in November, he finished as the second place rookie scorer in the NHL behind Bobby Clarke with 44 points 57th overall , and third on the Penguins.
The Penguins defeated the Oakland Seals in a four-game sweep in the quarter-finals, with Briere scoring the series-clinching goal in overtime. In the semi-final round, defending conference champions St. Louis Blues got the best of the Penguins during six games.
Briere led the team in playoff scoring, recording five goals including three game winners and eight points.
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Tragedy struck the Penguins just days after their playoff heroics. On May 15, , Briere was in a car crash in his native Quebec , suffering brain trauma and entering a coma from which he would never recover, dying a year later.
His number 21 jersey was never reissued, remaining out of circulation for the Penguins until it was formally retired in In the —71 season , the Penguins finished five games out of the playoffs with a 21—37—20 record, the fourth-worst record in the league.
Pittsburgh achieved a playoff berth in only to be swept by the Chicago Black Hawks in the first round.
The Penguins battled the California Golden Seals for the division cellar in , when Riley was fired as general manager and replaced with Jack Button. The personnel moves proved successful, as the team improved to a 28—41—9 record, although they remained nine points away from a playoff berth.
However, in early , the Penguins' creditors demanded payment of back debts, forcing the team into bankruptcy. The doors to the team's offices were padlocked, and it looked like the Penguins might fold or relocate. DeBartolo, Sr. MacDonald played with the Penguins from to They nearly reached the Stanley Cup semi-finals in , but were ousted from the playoffs by the New York Islanders in one of the only four best-of-seven game series in NHL history where a team came back from being down three games to none.
But the Pens' success beyond the regular season was always neutralized by mediocre team defense. Goaltender Denis Herron was a stalwart in goal for parts of six seasons. The Penguins missed the playoffs in —78 when their offense lagged, and Larouche was traded for Peter Mahovlich and Peter Lee.
Bastien traded prime draft choices for several players whose best years were already behind them, such as Orest Kindrachuk , Tom Bladon and Rick MacLeish , and the team would suffer in the early s as a result. The decade closed with a playoff appearance in and a rousing opening series win over the Buffalo Sabres before a second-round sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
The Penguins began the s by changing their team colors; in January , the team switched from wearing blue and white to their present-day scheme of black and gold to honor Pittsburgh's other sports teams, the Pirates and the Steelers , as well as the Flag of Pittsburgh.
Both the Pirates and Steelers had worn black and gold for decades, and both were fresh off world championship seasons at that time.
The Bruins protested this color change, claiming a monopoly on black and gold, but the Penguins defended their choice by stating that the NHL Pirates also used black and gold as their team colors and that black and gold were Pittsburgh's traditional sporting colors.
The NHL agreed and Pittsburgh was allowed to use black and gold. The Penguins officially debuted wearing black and gold against the St. Louis Blues at the Civic Arena on January 30, During the early part of the decade, the Penguins made a habit of being a tough draw for higher-seeded opponents in the playoffs.
In , the 13th-seeded Penguins took the Bruins to the limit in their first round playoff series. The following season, as the 15th seed, they lost the decisive game of their first-round series in overtime to the heavily favored St.
Louis Blues. Then, in the playoffs , the Penguins held a 3—1 lead late in the fifth and final game of their playoff series against the reigning champions, the New York Islanders. However, the Islanders rallied to force overtime and won the series on a goal by John Tonelli.
It would be the Pens' final playoff appearance until Lemieux—Jagr era — [ edit ] Mario Lemieux played for the Penguins in three stints —, —, — The team had the league's worst record in both the and seasons, and with the team suffering financial problems, it again looked as though the Penguins would either fold or relocate.
Heading towards the end of the season ahead of the New Jersey Devils , who were placed last, the Penguins made a number of questionable moves that appeared to weaken the team in the short-term.
The Penguins posted three six-game winless streaks in the last 21 games of the season and earned the right to draft Lemieux amidst protests from Devils management.
However, the team spent four more years out of the playoffs after his arrival. In the late s, the Penguins finally gave Lemieux a strong supporting cast, trading for superstar defenseman Paul Coffey from the Edmonton Oilers after the Oilers' Stanley Cup win and bringing in young talent such as scorers Kevin Stevens , Rob Brown and John Cullen from the minors.
Also, the team at last acquired a top-flight goaltender with the acquisition of Tom Barrasso from Buffalo. All this talent had an immediate impact in helping Lemieux lead the Pens; but the Penguins struggled to make the playoffs. The —86 Pens unluckily missed the playoffs on the final day of the season by one game.
In —87 , the Penguins missed the playoffs by just two games and saw four teams with equal or worse records qualify. In —88 , the team again missed the playoffs on the last day of the season by one game.
In , Pittsburgh finally broke through the barrier and made the playoffs, on the back of Lemieux leading the league in goals, assists and points. On December 31, , Lemieux became the only player in history to score a goal in all five possible game situations in the same game even strength, shorthanded, penalty shot, power play, and empty net.