Before the Eastern Conference Finals got under way about a week ago, there was a lot of talk.
People talked about how Eric Staal would prove to be an uncontainable force for the Pittsburgh Penguins' defense. He responded by registering two points (1G, 1A) in the series.
People talked about how Cam Ward was an elite NHL goaltender. He responded by surrendering more than five goals twice in four games.
People talked about how the Carolina Hurricanes boasted so much depth on their roster, depth that simply couldn't be matched by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canes role players responded by remaining in Boston at the conclusion of the Eastern Conference Semifinals—well, except for Chad LaRose, who made an appearance in Game Four to stick check Jordan Staal in the back of the knee right in front of an official in the third period with his team trailing by two goals.
People talked about how the RBC Center was such a loud and tough building to play in. Old Lady Mellon responded by scoffing in the RBC Center's general direction.
People even questioned whether or not Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could continue their assault of the NHL's playoff scoring race beyond the first two rounds. They responded by proving why they are the most lethal combination of players in the league.
After Bill Cowher took his metaphorical dump on the city of Pittsburgh before Game Four got under way, the Canes began their predictable push to score first.
Eric Staal made his first appearance of the series by swooping around the back of the net and sneaking a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury just over a minute and a half into the first period.
Caniacs were going nuts. The spit projecting from Cowher's chin probably soaked people 12 rows in front of him.
In the visitor's luxury box, Mario Lemieux looked on, knowing full well what his team had to do. And they did it.
Max Talbot made a great play along the right wing boards to direct the puck to Phillippe Boucher at the Canes' blue line.
Boucher fired a shot pass toward the net, where Ruslan Fedotenko directed the puck in behind Cam Ward who was more out of position than Cowher's red zone offense.
Ten minutes later, Cam Ward fell apart.
Talbot gained the offensive zone and created some space to the left of a Canes' defenseman.
Mad Max, who was at the end of his shift, threw the puck toward the net, most likely looking for a stoppage in play or a chance to get to the bench.
The puck hung in the air and Ward admired it like a Kordell Stewart Hail Mary. The difference was this time, it wasn't intercepted. Whooooooooooo.
The puck glided over the glove of Ward and in to the back of the net to make it 2-1 Pens.
The Canes would push hard for the next 20 minutes, but Fleury would have none of it.
After a few unreal shifts by Malkin where he set up everyone on the ice in vain, Sidney Crosby and Billy Guerin decided to play a little game of two-man breakout.
Crosby gained the zone and downshifted along the left boards, coasting in on Ward.
Guerin drove the net hard down the middle of the ice.
As you can probably guess by now, Billy had no trouble beating the Canes' defenseman to the front of the cage.
Sid feathered a pass through traffic and Guerin tapped it home to make it 3-1 Pens.
After Carolina wasted away two power play opportunities, Father Time began his descent from the rafters of the RBC Center. He didn't even have to perform the customary off-switching of his hearing aid, because the RBC Center had been silenced.
Maybe it's just me, but if you need an air horn in your arena to lead your chants, you are a joke.
The Capitals and Hurricanes both seem to enjoy the use of air horns at their games, probably because getting more than 12 people in D.C. or North Carolina to chant a simple phrase at the same time is next to impossible.
Joke Corvo hooked up Crosby at center ice, and the Pens killed two more minutes off of the clock.
Rose blatantly pickle-stabbed the back of Jordan Staal's knee in front of an official with less than eight minutes remaining in the game.
There's something to be said about winning with dignity, but there's a lot more to be said about losing with it. Chad LaRose has no idea what dignity is. However, he will get a pretty good idea what the word "FORE" means come tomorrow afternoon.
The Pens milked the clock until Paul Maurice had seen enough and decided to pull Ward for the extra attacker.
Talbot chipped the puck out of the Pens' zone to Crosby, who made yet another unselfish play at the opposite blue line by giving the puck up to Craig Adams, who sealed the deal with his second empty net goal of the series.
Alex Ovechkin doesn't give that puck up to a teammate, he tries to shoot it through the approaching defenseman. If you think otherwise, you aren't thinking. That's what separates superstar players from superstar team players.
As the final 90 seconds ticked off the clock, Father Time slapped Bill Cowher in the face and made his exit.
In the immortal words of the Penguins' Hall-of-Fame broadcaster, Mike Lange: "You can spit shine your shoes, 'cause the Pens are goin' dancing with Lord Stanley."
Final Score: Pittsburgh 4 Carolina 1
Series: 4-0 Penguins
- The next time someone tries to tell you Joni Pitkanen or Joe Corvo are quality defensemen, refer them to this series.
- There are rumors that if the Wings get it done against the Hawks tomorrow night, the NHL may consider moving the starting date of the Stanley Cup Finals to May 30 instead of the original June 5 date.
- The Pens became the first team since the 2000-01 New Jersey Devils to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in consecutive seasons.
- The Pens also became the first runner-up team to make it back to the Finals since the Edmonton Oilers did it in 1983 and 84.
- All the words in the world can't commend Dan Bylsma and his staff for the job they have done in turning around this team. If someone told you the Pens would be back in the Finals when Bylsma took the reigns, you would have kicked them in the teeth.
- As opposed to last season, when none of the Penguins laid a hand on the Prince of Wales trophy, this year, Sidney Crosby skated the trophy all the way to the Penguins' dressing room after posing for a few pictures on the ice.
- In the coming days, you will hear a lot of talk about last season. That means absolutely nothing. Is there a desire for revenge? Sure. A need for retribution? Absolutely. But keep in mind that last season's crushing defeat to the Red Machine from Joketown happened last season.
This is a new chapter. A new beginning. New stories will be written, new heroes will be born, but all the while, last season will not be erased, nor will it be forgotten.
Who knows, the Hawks might rattle off three straight victories to overtake the Wings and set up a rematch of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals.
So, until it is set in stone, enjoy this moment, Penguin fans, because in a few short days, war will be waged, and the greatest prize in sports will be on the line.
This is our time. This is the year that we Bring Back the Cup.
Let's Go Pens.