With the Flyers victory tonight in Washington, the Eastern Conference semis are set: Flyers vs. Canadiens, Penguins vs. Rangers. How did the Capitals take the loss?
"It's tough to beat the officials as well as the Flyers." - Tom Poti
Classy. Better luck next year.
Which leaves us with an uber-intriguing matchup with the New York Rangers. The storylines are suffocating, and there are plenty of parallels to the '92 second round matchup with the Rangers. There is (sadly) perhaps no more talked about player right now than Sean Avery, who's antics will surely come in to play this series. If you know your "Against the Odds", then you know that the '92 series was all about justice (scroll down to #6). The Pens had to keep their cool and allow the Rangers to take stupid penalties. Will Ruutu, Laraque et al retaliate to Avery? Which team will get more "dumb penalties"? I hate when a series comes down to questions like this, but it certainly does seem that way right now.
The Pens went 3-5 against the Rangers this year (3-3-2 if you are into that sort of thing), which might not matter at all, although it isn't terribly encouraging. Besides, there are plenty of other things to be worried about. Lundqvist is a Vezina Finalist, much has been written about Drury's "clutchness", and Brendan Shannan and Martin Straka always seem to score big goals.
But the biggest storyline by far concerns the gentleman in blue at the top of this post. It seems completely unfathomable that the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing in a playoff series AGAINST Jaromir Jagr. Some might scoff at that statement. But take a look back at what Jagr did in Pittsburgh and you'll realize that it is astonishing (sidenote: if you were a reader when I used to write those articles, then God bless you for sticking with us for so long). After witnessing him in person last year, it is undeniable that he has lost a few strides. But he still has that shark-like, dare I say Mario-like ability to float around and be in the right spot at the right time.
Sam says this is the series where we see what we really got in Hal Gill. Frequent reader J Staal says we go as far as Fleury takes us. Both may be true. All I know is that even though we're nearing in on a decade since the Jagr trade, playing against him in the playoffs will be a new type of weirdness that could only happen in the NHL playoffs.