Like Lemieux, the Penguins are seeing their legend grow. They won both their Stanley Cups after having struggled in the regular season, thereby earning a reputation for being a team that could throttle up at will. This season they've kept the hammer down. "We're in high gear," says forward Rick Tocchet, an important pickup late last season who has become a leader in the dressing room. "We're ready for the playoffs. And we know that anything less than the Stanley Cup is going to be a failure."
The talkative Tocchet is momentarily struck dumb when he's asked if the Penguins, who ended last year's playoffs with a record-tying 11 consecutive postseason victories, are peaking too soon. "Who's peaking?" he says after a long pause. "If you think this team is peaking, you're wrong."
By the middle of June there will be blood on the ice and beer in the Cup. The Penguins can already smell both. Says defenseman Peter Taglianetti, who was reacquired from the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning last month, "We're out to prove that this is the best team the league has seen in a long, long time."
Lemieux says that he's still drained and sore from the radiation therapy, but the only outward sign of his mortality is a half-moon-shaped bald patch on the back of his head. And you only notice that when he takes off his helmet. In full gear he's Super Mario, number 66, the greatest show on earth.