Penguins to play for Cup
(2) Pittsburgh v. (6) Philadelphia
Penguins win series 4-1
Wayne Gretzky needed four NHL seasons. Mario Lemieux required seven. But Sidney Crosby was swifter than both No. 99 and No. 66.
The Pittsburgh Penguins' sensational 20-year-old captain has steered his team to a Stanley Cup final in only his third season.
The Eastern Conference finals have been covered to death here in Canada, receiving twice as much press as the Detroit-Dallas series because of (a) Crosby and friends and (b) geography. Detroit's close enough that the Toronto media can easily (and cheaply) trek there, but Texas?
Not everyone's been making that trip.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, on the other hand, are a stone's throw apart.
Still, you can't talk about this series without speaking to the Flyers' hurts on defence. Braydon Coburn played 26 minutes over five games. Timonen, who averaged 24 minutes a game all season, played only 21:43 in this series due to a blood clot issue.
Would the Flyers have won this series with those two in the lineup? Probably not. But my guess is it would have gone longer than five games, and the deciding one would have been such a gongshow.
No team's beating the No. 2 club in the East while down its two best defenders.
Still, give Pittsburgh credit. They're now 12-2, undefeated at home over the past 16 games, and have outscored their opposition 3.64 goals per game to 1.86 in these playoffs. The Penguins have only been outshot in three games, and have been incredible on special teams with a 24.6% power play and 87.3% penalty kill.
And they're doing it all while getting contributions from everyone.
Honestly, who has stood out as the defacto MVP on this team? In the earlier rounds, the answer would have been Evgeni Malkin, but after a so-so Round 3, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Marian Hossa are in the conversation.
And I think even Sergei Gonchar has quietly been terrific.
Crosby's now leading the postseason scoring race, two points up on Henrik Zetterberg, Malkin and Hossa, and he's going to be very, very important in the finals. Whoever they get, Detroit or Dallas, is going to be a real test, more so than anyone they've yet faced, and the fuzz-faced captain will have to lead the way.
He's managed that so far, so who knows?