Monday, September 21, 2009

"Top 10 Most Painful Moments" #7: Luck, Dumb Luck

We continue our "Top 10 Most Painful Moments" feature, counting down the ten times that the Penguins have caused Flyers fans the most pain over the past few years. Before continuing, here's a rundown of the previous moments we've counted down on OBG...
#10: Sykora's Called Shot
#9: Letang's OT Winner
#8: Biron the Boob

#7: Luck, Dumb Luck
When the Penguins lost the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals in six games to the Detroit Red Wings, it was a very satisfying sight for Flyers fans to see. I personally felt that the Penguins performance in that Stanley Cup Final was flat-out embarrassing, because, despite losing in six games, it had taken them nearly seven full periods of hockey to put up a goal. They fought back well towards the end, but in my honest opinion, the series wasn’t as close as one would expect a six-game series to be.

The next time the Penguins faced a 2-0 deficit in a series was the following year, 2009, against the Washington Capitals. The Penguins had beaten the Flyers in the first round in what was one of the more thrilling six-game series you’ll ever see, because while the Flyers fell behind 2-0 in the series, they still had three separate games in which they came inches from tying or winning the game (anyone who watched games 2, 4, and 6 will certainly agree with me).

The 2-0 deficit the Penguins fell into against the Capitals resulted from two very close games, both in which the Penguins scored first. The Penguins managed to fight back in that series and win the next three games, and would eventually win Game 7 in blowout fashion. Now, I believe that some luck went into their seven-game victory- primarily, the fact that Simeon Varlamov inexplicably blew up towards the end of the series- but I think that it was a hard-fought, skilled victory overall. Luck always plays a bit of a factor, but the Penguins losses in that series were very close, and to their credit, they did their homework on Varlamov.

The Penguins’ again won easily in the conference finals, which lead them into a blockbuster rematch with the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Both teams were considered to be stronger than the year before, and that fact made the rematch all the more exciting. The Red Wings got off to another fantastic start, grabbing two 3-1 victories highlighted by the play of two players who the Penguins should have had in check. Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader were prospects who were expected to be good eventually, but not necessarily in 2009. Helm had been playing well for most of the playoffs, but for the Penguins to allow two largely inexperienced prospects to take them to school was quite embarrassing. Meanwhile, I was loving every minute of it, because the Penguins, even the with Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk out, and even with the experience of playing the Red Wings the year before, were still getting schooled. In addition, my anger towards the Penguins had grown considerably since 2008, due to the heated 2009 playoff series between the Flyers and them adding a lot of kindling to my fiery contempt for the Penguins.

The Penguins’ victory in Game 3 was much easier for me to swallow than their victory in Game 3 against Washington had been. The Penguins took a 1-0 lead, then fell behind 2-1, and finally tied it late in the first period on a goal by Kris Letang. In the third, Sergei Gonchar scored the go-ahead goal from the point, and they won 4-2. Their comeback after an early 2-1 deficit frustrated me, but I found comfort in the fact that the Penguins had won Game 3 against the Red Wings the year before, and still lost the series in six games.

What really sent me over the edge and pushed this experience into the top ten was Game 4. In Game 4, the Red Wings came back from an early 1-0 deficit (after an early power play goal by Evgeni Malkin) to take a 2-1 lead for the second straight game. Now, this was the exact same scoring pattern that resulted in the Red Wings’ 2-1 Game 4 victory the year before. I figured that the Penguins had used up a lot of energy winning Game 3, just like the year before, and would lose this Game 4 as well.

However, as you’ve surely learned by now, my dreams of the Penguins having nightmares never come true. The Penguins tied the game midway through the second on a shorthanded breakaway goal by Jordan Staal, and the pack of Pens’ fans at Mellon Arena was going just about as crazy as any hockey crowd that I could recall. Again, I didn’t mind it- that is, I was only fuming a bit until they scored again just two minutes later on a two-on-one when Malkin fed Sidney Crosby for a tip-in. Then, just minutes after that, they got an insurance goal on a fantastic
tic-tac-toe play that resulted in a goal by Tyler Kennedy.

At that point, I actually turned off the television I was so bewildered- something that I don’t think I’ve ever done during a hockey game. I even watched the entire third period of the Flyers and Penguins Game 5 the year before, in which the Flyers were down 5-0 at the start of the period and 6-0 at the end of the game. It was simply too ridiculous to watch- I felt as if there was no way this could be happening. With me web surfing with a frown on my face, the Penguins went on to win by another 4-2 score, and I began to realize that this wasn’t going to be the same series as the year before.

Now, as you all know, the Penguins went on to win the series, and we’ll certainly be talking about the latter part of the series later in our countdown. However, I would like to point out now that I truly believe the Penguins’ victory over the Red Wings entailed a lot of help from lady luck. In my impartial opinion as a huge hockey fan as well as a hockey blogger is that the Red Wings were the better team in this series. Mike Babcock, the Red Wings head coach, said that his team had “nothing left to give” after the series, and he wasn’t kidding. Pavel Datsyuk missed a large chunk [?] of the series, and he wasn’t at one hundred percent at any point in the series. Also, unbeknownst to the media and the fans, Marian Hossa was having shoulder troubles, which explains why he- the player who had the most to play for in the series- was kept off the scoresheet. The injuries to these two, who were arguably Detroit’s two best players (or at the very least their two best forwards) that year, coupled with the age of the Red Wings, undoubtedly played a role in the Penguins victory. Having an old team isn’t an excuse for losing, but it certainly does explain why the Red Wings were struggling towards the end of the series.

Now, this all isn’t to take away from the Penguins hard-earned victory, but it certainly does bring into question how things would have turned out if either Datsyuk or Hossa was at one hundred percent. Nevertheless, the frustration that I and many Flyers fans were feeling as the Penguins clawed back into the series stung a lot, and it made the Flyers defeat at the hands of the Penguins in the first round even bitterer.

Next Time on “Top 10 Most Painful Moments”: Evgeni Malkin uses the elimination of the two-line pass rule to embarrass the Flyers’ Mike Richards…

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