Image used courtesy of a submission toThe Pensblog
February 14th all hope looked lost. The Pittsburgh Penguins just lost a 6-2 to the non-threatening Toronto Maple Leafs. The team was in a funk, mired in 10th place and playoff chances were growing more and more dim every game they played. Michel Therrien was dismissed, Dan Bylsma got a promotion, yada yada yada the Penguins go 30-8-4 and have repeated as Eastern Conference Champions on May 26th.
Ok so maybe I skipped a little, huh?
- First of all, I'm happy the Sidney Crosby picked up the Prince of Wales trophy, posed for a few pictures and nonchalantly skated off the ice. Mario Lemieux did that too. The New Jersey Devils (the last team to win back to to back Eastern Conference titles in 2000-01) kind of initiated the tradition of not touching that trophy back in the mid '90s, with the thought of "this isn't the one we want to celebrate". And while that's all well and good, a perfectly fine message to have, the Penguins deserved to have the happy moment to recognize their monumental achievement for such a huge season turnaround. Plus Crosby, one of the most superstitious players you'll ever meet, had to realize that not touching the Wales trophy didn't do anything to help the Pens win "the trophy they wanted" last year, so why not now?
- Even though the top dogs, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were quiet on the scoreboard, the role players came through tonight. Max Talbot (1 goal, 2 assists), Ruslan Fedotenko (1 goal), Miroslav Satan and Philippe Boucher (1 assist a piece) all had big nights and were reasons for the success.
- Got to give credit to the Carolina Hurricanes, they battled and showed heart. Whether they hit a wall after two seven game series or just were over-matched is topic for another night. When they went out there against the Penguins, they just didn't measure up. Offensively, defensively and in net Pittsburgh showed their superiority in all dimensions and got the deserving win.
- Speaking of which, why'd Carolina hit the wall after 14 games of early round play, while Pittsburgh played 13 and is getting stronger and stronger? More skill and the mark of a champion, I'd say.
- Another nod to Marc-Andre Fleury; 30 saves on 31 shots. He had his best game of the series when the Penguins needed him the most. He's now got 26 playoff wins in the past two seasons, a terrific run. While his exploits are always going to be over-shadowed by his high powered offensive teammates, if he's not solid then the Pens don't have a chance of winning. He was more than that tonight and now he's going back to the Finals.
- Just another ho-hum 0 point, +3, 5 blocked shot (combined) night for the pairing of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, the team's other bunch unsung heroes. They'll be tested again before it's all done, but they've proven they can carry the mail yet another time.
So that's it, that's your Eastern Conference playoff bracket. The Penguins dispose of their physical, cross-state rivals in six intense games, they follow that up by dispatching nemesis Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in seven and then steamroll the only team left in four straight.
It seems inevitable that Detroit will win and clinch another Western Conference title; if they win tomorrow at least it'll be just a four day layoff, while if they lose tomorrow it'll seemingly be 11 days of practice and rest for Pittsburgh before the Finals and the unfinished business resumes.
12 wins and 3 series down, just 4 more wins to go until they get "the trophy they want".