Tragedy struck the Penguins in 1970 when rookie center Michel Briere, who finished third in scoring on the team during his only season in the league, was injured in a car crash. He died in 1971 after spending a year in hospital.
The Penguins would never be a force in the league until they drafted Mario Lemieux in 1984. After four more years out of the playoffs, Lemieux led the league in scoring in 1988-1989 and the Penguins would advance to the playoffs, where they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers.
In 1990-1991, the Penguins reached the top. They drafted star Czech right winger Jaromir Jagr, and through the 1990s, Jagr and Lemieux were two of the league's biggest scoring threats. Add that to up-and-coming Mark Recchi and Kevin Stevens, stalwart defenseman Paul Coffey, and the goaltending of Tom Barasso, and the Penguins became the league's best team, defeating the Minnesota North Stars (since relocated to Dallas) in the Stanley Cup finals. They repeated the feat by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks the following season, despite losing coach Bob Johnson to cancer.
Cancer nearly dealt the Penguins a double whammy in 1993. Not only were they reeling from Johnson's death, Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. His comeback only two months after the diagnosis was one of the league's greatest "feel-good" stories of all time. The Penguins, however, would be stunned in the second round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders.
The Penguins continued to be a formidable team through the rest of the 1990s, but it came with a price. They had paid so much for their talent, they almost went bankrupt, and it took Lemieux (who retired in 1997) to take over the team in bankruptcy court and prevent it from moving to Portland, Oregon. Lemieux shocked the hockey world by deciding to come back in late 2000 and lead the Penguins into the 2001 playoffs, where they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the second round.
Still, they needed to cut costs. They did so in a big way by dealing Jagr to the Washington Capitals in the summer of 2001 for a song. The absence of Jagr proved devastating to the Penguins, as in 2002 they missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Further difficulties on and off the ice saw them trade fan-favourite Alexei Kovalev[?] the next season.
Hall of Famers:
Not to be forgotten:
Pittsburgh Penguins official web site (http://pittsburghpenguins.com/)