Penguins out, Preds-Jets set for a 7 Heaven tonight!

Marc Elliott

Dustin Byfuglien; Big Buff scores  on Nashville’s Pekka Rinne
Dustin Byfuglien; Big Buff scores on Nashville’s Pekka Rinne

BIG SANDY LAKE… This evening the Pittsburgh Penguins came up short in their attempt to extend their series with the Washington Capitals to a seven heaven on Wednesday night in a 2-1 Game 6 OT loss. Washington takes the series 4 games to 2. The Pens put up a battle in the series, but the Caps clearly had more juice going for them as the Penguins appeared to be a tired, beat up club. With superstar Evgeni Malkin not looking like his usual self, with supporting cast members Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin off their games too, the Caps had too much for the Pens thus guaranteeing that there will be a new Stanley Cup Champion. Congrats to the Caps for finally upstaging a longtime nemesis and they are now halfway to a Cup victory. Suffice it to say that it does not get any easier. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov got the OT winner and promptly went into a birdlike dance he performs when he scores a big goal. Some would say that this was disrespectful on the Pens home ice. I could see that to an extent, but it’s the first time the Caps have beat the Pens in a playoff series since 1994. It is a new day in the NHL and some of the old traditions and norms are melting away slowly but surely. It’s still a fact though that the Pens have “owned” the Caps in the postseason, (9-2 all-time) so perhaps a bit of deference may have been in order. No excuses for the Pens though as this tourney is a 2-month beatdown machine. The way they looked in this series reminded me of the end of a Dallas Stars playoff run several years back. 

The Stars began a run in the 1998 playoffs where they went 3 rounds deep before losing out to the eventual Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Of course, in the 1999 tourney they won 4 rounds and the Stanley Cup. They came back in the 2000 playoffs and made it to the Cup Final again only to lose out in 6 games to the New Jersey Devils. In 2001 they beat Edmonton in the quarterfinals 4 games to 2 and then were beaten by a very good STL Blues team in a 4-game sweep which they just weren’t in. Why? The team was simply out of gas. I believe they played over 300 games in this time span. And that’s what I saw in the Pens in this series. There are other reasons too. It didn’t help the Pens cause to lose a handful of depth players in the offseason, least of which was netminding wizard Marc Andre Fleury. So, the Pens are out, they have nothing but my hockey respect and admiration, and they have one hell of an organization. 

How did they get to their current status? (take some notes here Minnesota Wild) Well, they were not a very good team for a while. From 2001 to 2006, (minus the lockout season) they didn’t make the playoffs. They finished 5th in their division in each of those seasons. This allowed them to draft at the front of the line and obtain a handful of franchise changing players. In the 2003 Entry Draft they obtained goaltender Marc Andre’ Fleury, in the 2005 draft they chose Sidney Crosby. The 2005-06 year was Crosby’s rookie year and even his 102 points in 81 games couldn’t get them in. However, he and Fleury were the beginning of a winning foundation. In 2006 they got to pick high again and got Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, two high-grade players. Malkin ended up winning the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year. Through some additional shrewd dealing and roster construction, in 2008 they made their first Cup Final since 1992, (but lost to Detroit) won the first of 3 recent Cups in 2009 and have mostly never looked back. Is their window now closed? I wouldn’t say that, but they do need to retool their depth. 

Does the formula of lose, draft high and develop winners always work? The answer to that is no it doesn’t. Take the Edmonton Oilers for instance. No team has had more high 1st round picks over the past 10 seasons, yet, the club still operates mostly in mediocrity. You must have an Executive who knows how to build around those players and even then, the entry draft is somewhat of a crap shoot. Pick wrong and you could be adding to your team’s suffering for several more seasons. One of the Wild’s ongoing problems though in a quest to build a Champion is the lack of a true, high draft pick, franchise changing player and that’s one of a few reasons for the team’s post-season malaise. But, I don’t want to perform a post mortem on this year’s team or do a dissertation on them, and no, as far as we know, they haven’t decided on a replacement GM yet, unless it IS Paul Fenton from the Nashville Predators and they don’t wish to make a formal announcement yet with the Pred’s still in a playoff series. 

As of this eve’s results the Preds will get to live on at least for one more game as they went up north to The Peg and totally smothered the Jets in a 4-0 Jet wash. This means there will be a seven heaven on Thursday night back in the Music City and I can’t wait for that. The downside is that at this point of the tourney there won’t be anymore games until then. I’ll be relegated to watching the IIHF World Championships. They are OK, but they aren’t the Cup tourney. Who prevails Thursday? Good question. If the Preds duplicate this evenings performance, they do. If the Jets can come in and play a perfect road game, which they are capable of, they could. Against my bracket, I must go Preds here.

Waiting for them are the upstart Vegas Knights who eliminated the San Jose Shark 4 games to 2. 
After the G1 7-0 pasting of the Sharks, the Knights had to go into counterpuncher mode for most of the rest of the series as the Sharks put on some serious offensive push. Netminder Marc Andre’ Fleury was huge in the series, but I counted at least 9 pipes by San Jose Sunday eve. I don’t see them besting either the Preds or Jets in the WCF. Sunday afternoon Tampa Bay knocked the Boston Bruins out, losing the 1st tilt then prevailing in 4 straight for the series win. They licked the Bruins at their own game. They will have an extra day of rest before engaging the Caps and have played fewer games overall, I am going with the Bolts here. I’ll have more on the Conference Finals next week!! PEACE