This was the 96th game of importance for the Penguins of the year. And it's enough to be the only team still playing from the Eastern Conference. The depth of this accomplishment hasn't really set in for us, but knowing that this team, only a couple of years ago a basement dweller, has now fully lived up to the promotional slogan of "Experience the Evolution" has been complete....And maybe that's good enough for right now. It'll be a long summer of reflection, and the important thing is that the off-season hasn't begun just yet.
Some thoughts we have going through our head right now:
- The play that really broke the Flyers spirits was the 3rd goal. Down 2-0 in the second with about 12 minutes to go; Philadelphia had a powerplay to begin that period and were generally still in the game. Mike Richards corralled a weak clearing effort in the Pens zone and was looking to create a scoring chance in transition. Cut to Sidney Crosby, who was already turned and skating in the neutral zone (no doubt expecting the puck to be cleared). Crosby peels back, catches Richards and pops his stick, creating the turnover. Max Talbot and Marian Hossa fly up the ice and Crosby ends up centering a pass for Hossa that beat Martin "French Toast" Biron short-side.
- Speaking of which, Biron was beaten on several occasions on the short-side, something that the Penguins seemed to zero in on. We aren't sure if Biron's positioning was out of sync or if that's just what happens to him but it was pretty noticeable.
- The Marian Hossa trade has to be considered a success for the Penguins. Sure the effects of the deal won't really be known as we see in the coming years what Atlanta can develop the likes of Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and their 1st round pick into. But Hossa with 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) in 14 games boosted the Penguins into the class of the East, possibly the league. Furthermore Pascal Dupuis, a throw-in, has played a 1st line role better than Colby Armstrong ever did. Sure it would hurt to see Hossa sign elsewhere and guys like Armstrong and Esposito flourish, but just think: what if Hossa got traded to Montreal. Would the Pens be in the position they are right now? We doubt it.
- Game-wise, it was a rout. Only Georges Laraque, Tyler Kennedy and Jarkko Ruutu didn't have a plus +/- rating. Every forward except Laraque, Ruutu and Talbot was credited with at least one shot on goal. The beating was complete.
- One thing to keep an eye on may be Petr Sykora, who did not play in the 3rd period. Whatever's wrong with him was over-shadowed by all the scoring and clinching. Perhaps, with a big lead, it was just precautionary or related to the illness that kept him out of practice yesterday, but maybe it is an injury. Surely more will come to light in the days to come. Luckily the Pens should be in store for another 5-6 day layoff, plenty of time to rest up.
- To listen to Philadelphia media folks, Kimmo Timonen comes from a Bobby Orr/Raymond Bourque/ Larry Robinson hockey bloodline. We give Timonen props for playing today, and know it is tough to be out a while and then jump back into the intensity and speed of playoff hockey, but Timonen wasn't the answer.
- Philly suffered with the injuries to their top defensive pair of Timonen and Braydon Coburn, but that's hockey. The Penguins lost something like 258 man-games to injury--many of those by Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and top systematic defensemen like Mark Eaton and Rob Scuderi. Everyone has injuries to deal with, it's an unfortunate nature of the sport. Not a good excuse for Flyer fans to use, the Flyers were just out-classed all the way around. As we like to say, the better team usually doesn't lose a seven game series. Especially in five games getting out-scored 20-9.
- Fleury was sensational, rising to the challenge of every shot and making a couple of beauties. He left some rebounds, but they were managable by him or the defense. Our buddy the Caps blogger Peerless Prognositicator dug up Fleury's combined AHL/NHL career playoff stats and they weren't pretty coming into this year (3-10, a 3.78 GAA and a 86.9% save percentage). That's some pretty awful numbers. But since returning from ankle injury earlier this year, Fleury's 22-4-1 and been very solid.
- So that's it. The Penguins get through the East in just fourteen games beating a seven seed, a five seed and a six seed. Not the most taxing way, but you can't choose who you play, just lineup and beat the team in front of you. If the Penguins can do that one more time it'll be time for brandy with Lord Stanley.
12 down, 4 more to go..........