Well it wasn’t pretty at times, many times in fact, but the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to get it done, closing out the Philadelphia Flyers in game six of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Philly last Sunday, April 22. Penguin speed, plus the chemistry of Sid Crosby and Jake Guentzel, and a relentless Evgeni Malkin (not to mention my six inch Stanley Cup I’m still toting around), made up for what defense and goaltending may not have. See my game-by-game recap of the opening round against the Flyers later in this column.
But the matter at hand right now is the Capitals. Game one is Thursday, April 26, at 7 p.m. in Washington.
How frustrating life must be for that Washington Capitals organization and those who moved from the Penguins to the Caps…guys like defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, not to mention assistant coach Todd Reirden. Since leaving Pittsburgh in 2014, apparently liking what they saw with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom being coached by Barry Trots, they have had to watch those Penguins that they vacated, win championships, while the Caps themselves can’t squeak past the second round…Yes, not even with the boy wonder Alexander Ovechkin…the big “O,” who in 14 years has won the Rocket Richard trophy (most goals in a season) a record-tying seven times…yes that Alex Ovechkin…have they even sniffed a conference championship series, let alone a Stanley Cup final series, let alone a Stanley Cup, nor has coach Barry Trots ever advanced to a third round for that matter. Makes you kinda scratch your head.
In fact, the Caps are so inept when it comes to the postseason, consider this playoff record for Washington since they first met Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Since 1991, the Capitals have lost in the first round 10 times (six of them to the Pens) and seven times in the second round (four of them to Pittsburgh). They lost in the first and second rounds after winning the President’s Trophy in 2010, 2016 and 2017. So that gives you some idea of what the Caps are up against. Many pundits say.”this is the year, this is the year.” Time will tell. They’ve said that before. Still you’ve got to wonder when will the Caps break through. The stats are so tilted, it’s only a matter of time. But I think this is not the time. So I’ll plan to keep cupping my Cup.
Can the Pens win a franchise record 10th straight playoff series? If it’s not Matt Murray, will it be Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel or Evgeni Malkin to make sure they do? Or who knows, maybe Phil Kessel, Kris Letang or Conor Sheary will come alive. And maybe third- and fourth-line center Riley Sheahan, who is kicking into high gear in these playoffs (and will step into the second line center spot in place of the injured Malkin), will add to his game, proving he is as valuable a third line center as the departed Nick Bonino was last year, who was a major contributor to the Cup wins of 2016-17. Carl Hagelin is out for game one as well after taking a crushing hit from Claude Giroux in game six of the Flyers series. But that’s alright, this team has depth. I still plan on cupping my Cup.
A RECAP OF THE PENS/FLYERS FIRST-ROUND SERIES (PENS WIN 4 GAMES TO 2)
In game one, Philly net-minder Brian Elliott got the hook in the second period in favor of Petr Mrazek. Pucks bounced off of sticks, legs, skates, goal posts, the ice…you name it…and rarely in Elliott’s favor…although one Penguin shot on goal had the puck break into three pieces. Unfortunately, this does not result in three goals. The Penguins took game one, 7-0, at PPG, on the strength of Crosby’s hat trick, Malkin’s 160-foot rush, unassisted goal…and a solid Matt Murray in net.
In game two, first period bounces went the other way, careening off of the pipes, Kris Letang, and Matt Murray, with one trickling in through Murray’s legs with 39 seconds left (last minute goals are so-often a back-breaker) and a foreshadow of how this game would play out. Murray gave up four goals on 15 shots. On one missed golden opportunity at the corner of an open net, Sidney Crosby broke his stick over the cross bar in a rare public display of frustration. The Pens lost, 5-1
In game three in Philadelphia, the Flyers owned the first 10 minutes of period one. Only Matt Murray kept the Pens in the contest until Crosby scored a wraparound on Elliott. Murray got bigger and stronger in net as the game progressed, using the glove, the paddle, the blocker, the pads, the skates…making outstanding saves. Then the Pens started racking up goals to which the Flyers never recovered, in a 5-1 Philly loss.
(Speaking of Crosby..urban legend has it that his picture now dwells in the urinals at the Wells Fargo Center so fans can urinate on him. But the more they whiz on Sid in the bathroom, the more he pisses on them on the ice. He has more points against the Flyers than any other team. When will the Flyer fans, and Flyers, ever learn?)
In game four, Malkin scored early on a power play pass from who else, Sidney Crosby…with a back-hand/fore-hand/back-hand pass through the legs of a Flyer defenseman to Malkin. Then Murray shut down a 3-4 minute Flyer rampage to keep the Pittsburgh lead. Philly was out of it midway through the second period in a 5-0, Matt Murray shutout.
In game five, Philadelphia tried a new goaltender in Michal Neuvirth, and both teams played period one defensively until Malkin went out with a leg injury (an injury that will have him miss game one of the second round against Washington). Philly’s Claude Giroux scored first but the Pens’ Brian Rust tied it up. Guentzel scores “five-hole” on Neuvirth, but late in the second, the Flyers’ Valtteri Filppula scored short-handed on Murray to tie it up at two. The Pens thoroughly out worked the Flyers in the third period of the game (11-3 in shots), which was most assuredly heading for overtime, when Philadelphia’s Sean Couturier scored with just a minute and change left. Pens lose a tough one, 4-2.
Game six was a whole ‘nother matter. Back in Philly, the Pens trailed the Flyers 4-3 when Jake Guentzel scored four straight (count ’em, 4) goals and the Pens close it out, 8-5, and win their ninth straight series.
Lee Kann is a media producer and free-lance writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org