Five Stunning Days in April
There was no sign this was coming. No sign at all six days ago that either the Vancouver Canucks or the Pittsburgh Penguins were in danger, or would quickly lose their first three games of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and find themselves on the precipice.
Even those who predicted the Pens and Canucks would lose in the first round foresaw long, drawn out series.
But then, nobody saw that the Canucks wouldn't be able to score - five goals in three games against L.A., seven goals in their last seven playoff matches - or that the Penguins wouldn't be able to defend. Pitt coughed up an unearthly 16 goals against in losing Games 2 and 3 to Philly, and while Marc-Andre Fleury has been stinky, he's hardly been provided with a wall in front of him.
Vancouver, meanwhile, can't get it going without Daniel Sedin, which would be an excuse if not for the fact they couldn't get it going on the attack with Daniel Sedin in the latter part of last spring's Cup final either. All that talent up front and nobody can find the net, while the players acquired by GM Mike Gillis in trades along the way this season - Zack Kassian, David Booth and Sammy Pahlsson - have added nothing to the attack.
Barring a spectacular comeback by either club, we'll soon be looking at the changes coming in both cities. In Pittsburgh, it will be whether its time to move on from the trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Jordan Staal. In Vancouver, there will be questions about head coach Alain Vigneault, and which of goalies Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo will be moving on to a new home this summer.
Just last Tuesday there were 14 unhappy teams lining up for the draft lottery. In a matter of days, there will be eight more first round losers, some of whom will be more hungry for change than the teams that didn't make the dance at all.
But before that, what about the teams that have pushed Vancouver and Pittsburgh to the brink?
The fates of the Flyers and Kings, its fair to say, are substantially linked. Philly traded Mike Richards to L.A. in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second round pick, a deal that both teams are pretty pleased with at the moment. Ex-Flyer Jeff Carter also ended up in L.A. after the Kings gave up defenceman Jack Johnson to get him.
Its fair to say that both GMs, Paul Holmgren and Dean Lombardi, stuck their necks out this season. Holmgren boldly decided the Richards-Carter combo wouldn't work for Philly and peddled both in stunning trades that made the Flyers younger and seemed to represent a competitive step back in the short-term. Instead, the Flyers are better despite the fact that once again, they brought in a goaltender (Ilya Bryzgalov) who has proven so far in the post-season to be anything but airtight..
Lombardi, meanwhile, lost out in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes and got burnt on dealing for Dustin Penner last year before the playoffs. He kept making moves, made a much-criticized decision to bring in Darryl Sutter as head coach to replace Terry Murray, and this time the combination of players in front of brilliant goalie Jonathan Quick and the coaching change worked.
Oddly, however, it was the deal Lombardi didn't make - hanging on to Dustin Brown rather than moving him at the deadline - that might have been his shrewdest move. Outside of Quick and maybe Drew Doughty, Brown has been the best King and made the two biggest plays Sunday night, laying out Henrik Sedin and scoring the only goal of the game.
Now, wouldn't it be interesting if these were the two teams that ended up meeting in the Cup final?