It seems like just yesterday when the Pittsburgh Penguins were on life support. They were buried in a deep two-game pit and stuck in overtime, a single goal away from playoff death. A single goal would have all but eliminated them and the "Ovie"tals came close a couple times to scoring it.
But, that goal never game. Kris Letang got the goal for the Penguins and, a few days later, the roles are reversed. The Capitals now find themselves once again facing the ghosts of playoffs past and on the brink of elimination.
What happened to change the course of this series so fast? Not much. The truth is that for much of the first two games, the Penguins were the better team in what was sure to be a closely contested series.
But, the bounces and calls did not go their way. The usually rock sold Marc-Andre Fleury was less than stellar while his nemesis, rookie Simeon Varlov, was channeling both Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur to become robogoalie and, despite controlling much of the play, the Pens wound up on the losing end of the only place that counts, the scoreboard.
Three games later, robogoalie has given way to the stay-puffed marshmallow man, giving up free rebounds by the boatload and a number of soft goals that were all but gift-wrapped. Evgeni Malkin has reemerged as a playoff force and Fleury has reestablished himself as an excellent playoff goalie.
Other than that, not much has changed. The Penguins continued to control much of the play, blocking shots like there was no tomorrow, and finally nudging ahead on the scoreboard again and again and again.
The Superstars continued to be...well...super. If the "Ovie"tals do go down, it will be impossible to pin the loss on Alex Ovechkin, who has been even better than advertised.
Before the series started, I predicted this series would not be decided by the league's two highest profile players, Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. That was one of the worst predictions I've ever made. Both players have been brilliant in all five games.
While it would be very bad for the team to look ahead to the next series with the Ovechkins, in the words of Monty Python, "not dead yet," let's go ahead and look ahead for a minute.
The latest news in the other pivotal playoff series was not as good. The Detroit Red Wings dominated the Anaheim Ducks to take control of that series, 3-2, and the Boston Bruins staved off elimination with a 4-0 shutout win over the Hurricanes climbing back to a 3-2 deficit.
The Penguins would benefit if both the Bruins and Red Wings were dispatched earlier than expected. That is not to take anything away from the Anaheim Ducks or the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes are one of the hottest teams in the league and Eric Staal is playing just about as well as anyone. And the Ducks are fortune's favorite, ousting the regular season's top team, the San Jose Sharks, before pushing the Red Wings into a hole while getting most of the calls and plenty of luck along the way.
I have to think that the Penguins would rather face the Hurricanes in the next round and anyone but the Red Wings in the final. In fact, if the Bruins and Red Wings were eliminated, the Pens would become the favorites against any of the remaining teams in the West and the Hurricanes, although that would be a great series of two very hot teams.
That is not to say that the Penguins can not beat the Bruins or Red Wings. They can. But both of those teams are very deep. It would not be altogether bad if those teams found themselves watching the next two rounds from the comfort of their own homes.