In HBO's awesome series, True Detective, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) has the famous quote:
Someone once told me, 'Time is a flat circle.' Everything we've ever done or will do, we're gonna do over and over and over again.
Let's go back to 2013, first series against the upstart New York Islanders, making their first appearance in the playoffs in years. The Pittsburgh Penguins up 2 games to 1 in Game 4 before a raucous crowd, where they blow a third period lead and end up losing, throwing the series to 2-2.
Sounds like that flat circle old Rust was talking about, eh? And like that scene, the Pens seem resigned to making the same mistakes and suffering the same ultimate fate over and over again.
However, while on the surface a lot seems the same in terms of the circumstances the Penguins find themselves in, there are significant differences from this season to last. Take this piece from our Game 4 wrap-up last year:
Because make no mistake about it, the Penguins could very much derail tonight. Already in the closing moments of Game 4 we saw Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang- talented but not poised players at stressful times- begin to meltdown after the whistles. More of that and it could get ugly quickly.
And while the Islanders have done a lot right, and deserve no end of praise and credit for their play, the Pittsburgh Penguins need to remember who they are. They’re a team that’s capable of winning hockey games. They have talent up and down the roster. But their depth hasn’t come into play yet because several important players have had poor or too quiet series. To name names- Matt Niskanen, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Sutter, Mark Eaton. The list could go on. Players like these need to take advantage of their ice-time and skill and make things happen. They cannot be beaten by their counter-parts on the NYI roster like Casey Cizikias, Colin McDonald, Keith Aucoin, Lubomir Visnovsky and Frans Nielson. And the Pens have been beaten in this area so far.
Luckily this year the Penguins have kept their composure. There have been no post-whistle problems that so dogged them in 2012 and 2013. And they've gotten extensive contributions from depth players like Niskanen, Sutter, Beau Bennett and Brian Gibbons who've been some of their most productive players.
And, the biggest difference, is Marc-Andre Fleury. This time last year he was coming off a Game 4 where he gave up six goals and was the worst Penguin on the ice, and took a seat on the bench in favor of Tomas Vokoun. This year, Fleury has been one of the best Penguins. That isn't to say he has been perfect- surely his mistake to leave the crease to play the puck in the final minute of the 3rd period and then failing to stop a routine long shot gifted Columbus Game 4. But one mistake isn't a series-ender, even if it feels like one.
But time is not a flat circle. It's different this time- with a new cast of characters for and against. We're right back at 2 games to 2, with two of the next three on home ice, which ought to be a huge advantage. The Penguins didn't exactly blow the Islanders away last year (needing OT in Game 6 to clinch) but they still got the job done. Win the next two, and what happened last night can be reduced to a memory.
Lose 'em, and it all changes everything.