We opened our podcast last night asking the question: Was Game 4 the game we've been waiting for the Pens to play all postseason? Our answer was a definitive 'no.' Game 3 was the game we had been hoping the Pens were capable of -- a tight, 1-0 win, with scoring from an unexpected place, and an ability to overcome a hot goalie with a hot goalie of our own. But you know, shit happens.
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Game 4 was the game we knew the Pens had in them, and the Pens teased us with it a few times in the Isles series (Games 1 and 5) and even early in this series (Game 1). But they never got all the way there like they did last night. Game 4 was total domination. The Pens OWNED the first period and probably should have been winning 5-2 after 20 minutes. With all due respect to Dejan Kovacevic, who is having himself a hell of a playoffs, the Pens were not "awful" in the first period. In fact, it was arguably the Pens most dominant period offensively in the whole playoffs; it just took a few minutes more of play in the second period to reap the benefits on the scoreboard. What happened in the third period -- 4 goals in 10 minutes -- was not the product of 10 good minutes of hockey, something which has often been enough for the Pens to win games. It was the well-earned payoff from two excellent overall performances in Ottawa in Games 3 and 4.
The Pens went into Ottawa and scored 8 goals in 2 games -- it's just a matter of bad fortune that they weren't spread out more evenly to come home with two wins. Because one thing is clear this morning and it's that this series should already be over.
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Unfortunately, it's not over. The mental errors that the Pens make way-too-regularly are not going away, so there's no guarantee that the Pens close it out in Game 5. But the Pens would be wise to keep their foot on the gas and try to bury Ottawa right from the start because as clearly as the fans and media can see that the Pens are the better team, the Senators themselves seem to see it most clearly. From Scott Burnside of ESPN.com:
Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who reached the 100-point plateau in playoff scoring with a power-play goal with the game out of reach in the third, was asked whether it was feasible to win three straight against this Pittsburgh team.The Senators are ready to lose this series. The only way they get back in it is if the Pens let them, and the killer-instinct and refusal to get frustrated last night is the most encouraging sign yet that the Pens won't allow it. The last 4 games for Ottawa have been like nursing a sick relative. There was a brief glimmer of hope, but we all know how it should end. It's time to pull the plug and let go.
"Probably not," he answered with brutal candor. "With their depth and their power play right now, it doesn’t look too good.
"I’m just saying that I don’t think there’s much going for us. Maybe that’s the way we like it."
|It's ok, Paul. Don't be scared.|
- Tomas Vokoun is something to behold. I've never seen a goalie look behind himself so much to make sure the puck isn't dribbling between his legs and in. It doesn't dribble between his legs, though, and that's all that really matters. As long as he keeps winning -- and he's 5-1 with a 1.82 GAA and .942 save percentage -- there is nothing to discuss. He's the goalie. If he falters (and despite the constant looking over his shoulder, there's no indication that a collapse is imminent), Fleury will be ready. The only question at this point is whether if Vokoun has a bad game, would that even be enough for Fleury to supplant him as the #1 goalie again?
- Kris Letang must be bi-polar. One personality is an evolutionary Scott Neidermayer; the other is a de-evolutionary Mike Green. His first period was horrific, from giving up a shorthanded breakaway to falling on top of his goalie. But then he had 4 assists. When he isn't limiting himself, his ceiling is unlimited.
- If healthy, Jussi Jokinen needs to stay in the lineup. Joe Vitale did a very nice job in his few games, but Jokinen brings something that can further separate the Pens from the competition -- an ability to sustain offense. The Pens are so top-heavy that you can't even really say they have a "1st line." With Jokinen, the same is true at the bottom of the lineup. There's really no 4th line. With Cooke, Kennedy, Sutter, Jokinen, Adams, and Bennett/Morrow, it doesn't really matter what you call any combination. Each can play 10-15 effective minutes. Here are Game 4's time on ice numbers:
- 15:32 from Crankshaft, and you barely heard his name. That's a great thing.
Pens need to put this one away on Friday. We suspect they will. Go Pens.