During Pittsburgh's 11 game winning streak in the regular season, a lot of people, me including, tought, they saw the new Stanley Cup Champion and wanted to bring the Cup to Pittsburgh without playing one game in the playoffs.
But then, the Philadelphia Flyers ended that streak, winning a game in March 3-2 in Overtime with just a second left to play (after the Pens had a 2-0 lead) and the Penguins from Pittsburgh lost their ability to play defense. Tough losses against the Ottawa Senators, who are having, by the way, a 3-2 lead in their series against the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders (twice) showed some huge problems, 1) the Pens had to fix till the playoffs and 2) costed them the first spot in the Eastern Conference.
So the worst case scenario for the first playoff round came up, the Pens had to face their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. Not only, that the Flyers won 4 games out of 6 during the regular season against them, no they just won 5/6 games in the Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh's home, since the arena opened it's gates in 2010 (and the only victory for the Pens was the last regular season game, not an important win, but actually they just showed that they could win on home ice against the Flyers). Definitely not the best conditions to start a best of 7 series with having the first two games at home, and 4 in total, if the series would see 7 games.
It was probably just the first game of that series, that took it away from the Penguins. After being up 3-0 after 20 Minutes, Pittsburgh lost 3-4 in overtime. They lost, once more, their defense skills and what might be more concerning, the Flyers got their first powerplay and scored, while the Pens had 3 without scoring.
It should be one of the stories in the series, that the Flyers used their powerplays (and also scored 3 shorthanded) and the lack of discipline and killing a penalty on the Penguins' side, that decided the series.
After being down 3-0 after the first three games, with an embarassing third game for the Pens in Philadelphia, not only being outscored 20-12 after 3 games, they have lost 3 men for game 4 due to suspensions.
And so the Pittsburgh Penguins were just facing the possiblity to get swept in the first round of the playoffs. The fourth game was crucial and the Pens came back. And that's not just a phrase, they did it in a convincing way, they outscored the Flyers for the first time 10-3 and forced a fifth game. But would it also be possible to force a sixth or even a seventh game?
It seemed, that they gained some momentum; made some moves within the team, by dressing 7 defensemen and 11 forwards and won game five at home 3-2. They showed some "old-school" Penguins' defense play and goaltending - like they did earlier that season and it seemed just months away, but it was quite recently, not one month ago, when the defense faltered and the problems started - in the third period.
If it was potential to win game 6, the Penguins might have had a chance to advance to round 2, but it wasn't like that. Actually, it was never close.
The Pens just missed the start, the first shift scored 32 seconds in the game for Philadelphia. Well nothing to worry about that, the team who scored first in games 1-5 hasn't won the game then, but game six was different from that point, however not from the Pens' defense play. Pittsburgh was close to be eliminated, being down 3-0 after half of the game. Trying to gain back some momentum after the 1-3, but 36 seconds later, Philadelphia scored their fourth goal and seemed like the winning team.
Not only they wanted that victory more than the Pittsburgh Penguins, you just knew it, the moment you saw the Pens' faces and their body language after the 1-4 at the bench. It was over. They fell 5-1 to the Flyers, after an empty net goal, in their last playoff appearance this season.
Maybe, it wasn't meant to be, but after the second round loss 2010 against the Montreal Canadiens, the first round loss 2011 against Tampa Bay Lightning, didn't expect much last year, with having neither captain Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, this year with a full lineup and all the "stars", just showed, that it might be not enough, to have the names only on paper, if they cannot produce anything. Just 3rd line center Jordan Staal, who was one of the better ones in that series (in my opinion), scored 6 goals, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who had 50 goals during the regular season, but was shut down by the Flyers' rookies) had 6 goals combined.
By any chance, there will be some changes this offseason, looking for some new defensemen , or getting rid of some old ones, getting Crosby and Staal to long term contracts, but that bitter taste in my mouth after that blow out against the Flyers will remain for a longer time.
That said, the hockey season isn't over yet, not even the first round, and there is still a lot of great hockey to be played till one team will rise Lord Stanley's Cup, although, a lot of favorites faced their elimination. (New post is coming about the end of the first round and the 2nd round matchups.)