The day was July 19, 2001.
Carson Daly was minding his own business and hosting TRL on MTV back when, you know, I guess people still cared and watched MTV. Everything was normal and going as scheduled, but a moment before cutting to commercial, a woman started to sing. Carson and the audience were obviously surprised, and from behind the curtain emerged Mariah Carey, dressed in an oversided t-shirt she probably got from the airbrushing stand at Six Flags while eating a giant turkey leg and pushing an ice cream cart she likely stole from a terrified and perplexed vendor on 41st and Broadway.
And for the next 3 to 4 minutes, she meandered about the studio discussing how this was her much-needed moment of therapy and, naturally, disrobing and making absolutely zero sense. You could see Carson and the audience begin to fear for their own safety as she passed out half-melted Drumsticks.
Mariah Carey was having an epic meltdown live and in front of everyone’s eyes, and it was a God damn mess.
And, really, that’s kind of what happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: a meltdown. The Pens were poised for a deep playoff run, and many experts touted them as Cup favorites (which is a sure way to curse a team, but hey). Everyone knew the series against the Flyers was going to be tough, but nothing went down the way anyone expected.
Game 1 started out in promising fashion with the Penguins jumping out to a 3-0 lead. They were skating, they were hitting, they were going north and not giving up much the other way. In short, they were playing the kind of hockey that made the experts seem like the oracle at Delphi. Maybe the series wasn’t going to be so tough after all, you know?
False. Leave it to Danny Briere to give the Flyers life, despite the fact that he was obviously offside. The Flyers put another behind Fleury to make it 3-2, and things suddenly got a lot more interesting. Jordan Staal hits the pipe and fails to put the Penguins up 4-2, and the Flyers even it up. Letang and Staal stand around in OT and Voracek pops home the winner. The Pens lose a home game in the playoffs after being up by 3 goals. Oh, here go hell come.
Really, that set the tone for the whole series. For whatever reason, the Penguins forgot how to play team defense and Marc-André Fleury turned in a Gigli-like performance in net which led to them bowing out to the Flyers in 6 games. The series didn’t look anything like the others that were being played. The Pens somehow managed to put ten goals behind a combination of Flyers goalies in game 4 to avoid elimination.
The team to score first lost every game before game 6. The Flyers power play cashed in on over half of their (numerous) chances. The Penguins gave up a ton of shorthanded goals. Again, nothing made any sense.
I waited a while to post something because I wanted to take the time to just sit back and watch what would happen after the Penguins got bounced.
Between the finger-pointing and moaning of Penguins fans and the pants-creaming of the rest of the league, it sure has been an interesting week. I’m not going to go on at length about it all, but I want to touch on a few key points:
1.) Marc-André Fleury played like he did the last few weeks of the season. Which, you know, was like crap. I mentioned it in my previous post, and it didn’t get any better. My take is that he was tired, frankly. We didn’t give him much rest this year with Johnson hurt and a reluctance to play Thiessen, which came back to bite us in the cul.
To be sure, this isn’t all on his shoulders, but this wasn’t the same guy who made back-to-back Cup runs a few years ago. Even so, the amount of criticism from pundits and fans alike is laughable. It was the series his haters were waiting for so they could scream, “TOLD YOU SO!” from the mountain tops. Which, fine, feel free and have a good-ass time doing it. But I’m pretty sure this is an exception, not the rule, going forward.
2.) The Penguins forwards didn’t bother doing a damn thing in their own zone. The centers were especially bad, actually, and Jordan Staal being lazy and out of position for the OT goal in game 1 was a perfect illustration of this.
3.) Kris Letang was embarrassing. He was the worst Penguins defenseman not named Ben Lovejoy, yet he’s somehow escaping criticism. For all the fingers pointing at Paul Martin, it was actually his partner in crime who was making most of the positional mistakes and, more importantly, losing his composure. Just disappointing, and note that the same problems persisted even after Martin went down with an injury and didn’t play in the final 3 games of the series.
Remember how I said the Penguins could win in 5 if they did three things, the most important of which was to stay out of the penalty box? Yeah, well, they didn’t do that, and look where we are now. The complete and utter lack of discipline came back to bite them, and they only have themselves to blame. I really don’t have any problem saying it, and it’s not like they aren’t painfully aware of it, you know?
The offseason will, per usual, lead to some interesting discussions and changes. But the funny part is, to me, that the adjustments that need to be made are more mental than anything.
I don’t think there’s any need to hit a panic button and completely overhaul things. I don’t think Shero needs to ship out Martin and Michalek (uh, remember 2 years ago?), and I don’t think they need to re-think the 3-center model. I do, however, think they need to consider their attitude and their approach going forward.
Now, as for the rest of the league in these playoffs? Kings and Coyotes will battle for the West crown, and the Flyers and Rangers will duke it out for the East (much to my chagrin since I’m pulling for the Devils). I do think (and hope) that the Cup winner will be the team that comes out of the West.
God, I hate being on the sidelines this soon.
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