The Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks could correctly be called the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup in the 2012 NHL playoffs.
Despite being the No. 4 seed in the East, the Penguins were the top choice in the final Bovada wager ranking at 4-to-1. The Canucks were second choice, along with the New York Rangers, at 11-to-1.
Now, both teams are facing new and significantly longer odds: The probability that they can rally to win first-round playoff series after dropping the first two games on home ice.
They're both fighting history. The Philadelphia Flyers have never lost a series in which they've started 2-0 — although starting 3-1 is a different story. The Canucks have never lost the first two games of a series that started in Vancouver, and they've never won a series in which they lost the first two games.
To paraphrase the great the David Byrne: "Well, how did we get here?"
For the Canucks, their Game 2 loss against the Los Angeles Kings was still an improved effort: 48 shots on goal, 22 better than in Game 1, and better play overall 5-on-5, especially off the start.
Which is great and all, but not when you're getting your buttocks handed to you on special teams. From Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun:
The Kings scored twice short-handed and once on the power play. And their other goal was from power-play pressure. Los Angeles is 3-for-12 in the series with the man-advantage. Vancouver is 0-for-10, minus the killer short-handed goals it surrendered Friday.
Of course, [Daniel] Sedin, the concussed winger who led the NHL in scoring last season, is brutally missed on the power play. But four goals in two playoff games, though meagre, is not an offensive crisis by post-season standards. It's the eight goals against that is more of a concern.
L.A. was 29th in scoring this season. Vancouver was fourth in goals-against. Nobody expected the problems to be in the Canucks' zone. The fact that the Kings' franchise lost the only series it ever led 2-0 is inconsequential because it occurred in 1968 and we're pretty sure there was still a "rover" in the lineup back then.
Daniel Sedin's absence is, of course, the biggest mitigating factor here. The Canucks were second in the NHL with 57 power-play goals and Sedin had 10 of them.
Barring his return for Game 3 — at this point, who knows if his recovery will be "accelerated" by a desperate team — the next big question is Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider in Los Angeles.
I thought Roberto Luongo had an OK game for 4 goals against. He made the first save on Kopitar, and then had his guys falling around when the puck fell to Brown. Breakaways are always tough. Its a shame on a night where the Canucks were involved and attacking, that 3 of those 4 goals were a direct result of scrambled play that was not handled well. That 4th goal, I lay at his feet a little less than the three guys that got outworked by Lewis.
But, for all of that, I think you will see Cory Schneider for Game Three. Not because Luongo was bad, because he was not. He had some huge saves to keep his team in it at several points in the game. The media trolls like Damien Cox will make it out to be so when the announcement is made, and that is a predictable shame ( at what passes for unbiased...if they are going to cheer for one game or the other, why can't frigging bloggers do their silly self important jobs? I though national media members were paid to be a bit less truculent. My mistake ), but the main reason I think you see Schneider in Game Three is because it will hopefully jolt the team. That's my take on what AV's thought process would be, and I am just guessing of course.
It's not a terrible guess. Especially when you consider that, down 2-0 to the No. 8 seed after playing for the Stanley Cup last June, Alain Vigneault is now coaching for his job.
We won't see Brent Johnson in net for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 in Philadelphia, unless Marc-Andre Fleury gets pulled. And if he's not getting pulled after surrendering seven goals in an 8-5 Game 2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, then he never will.
I still think Marc-Andre Fleury is a money goalie in the playoffs, but it's a viewpoint I'll admit is getting more difficult to defend.
Shaky performances in three losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning last postseason — cushioned by a strong one in a Game 7 loss — have dovetailed into two porous performances against the Flyers. Last night, he was a rebound machine, unable to make a significant momentum changing save. He has a 5.46 GAA and a .804 save percentage in these playoffs. Putrid.
Down 2-0 to the Flyers, and heading to their madhouse, Dejan Kovacevic had some questions for the Penguins:
Will Evgeni Malkin, the league's imminent MVP, continue to be outshone by the 19-year-old Couturier, who not only shut down Malkin again but also netted a hat trick? Or will Malkin stop trying to stickhandle through the world? Will the power play score or allow more goals by series' end? Will the penalty-killing ever expand from its tiny box against the Flyers' killer power play?
Will Fleury flat-out dominate, because that's now critical? Was Chris Kunitz really a minus-5 with two goals?
It's very much worth praising the Flyers. They've been relentless in bouncing back, furious on the forecheck and deadly on the finish. They found a way to hold their only lead in the third. But sorry, I can't accept that this Philadelphia roster is the '80s Oilers reincarnated. It's a good group of forwards, but it's not eight-goals good. Nobody is in today's NHL.
Of course they're not. But they've proven to be a deeper, more physical and flat-out better group than the Penguins are in this series, especially defensively: Sean Couturier, of the Game 2 hat trick, has done a job checking the Malkin line that's well beyond his years. Malkin didn't register a shot on goal in the third period of either game.
Sidney Crosby, for all the first-period pace-setting heroics, not only doesn't have a point yet after the first 20 minutes but only has four shots on goal for the series.
Meanwhile, the Flyers have outscored the Penguins 7-1 in the third and in overtime. That's killer instinct, and an indication that the Penguins' D is failing them. From The Pensblog:
The defense has completely betrayed the Penguins. It's something you can't even begin to argue. The Flyers are capitalizing off mistakes the Pens make, and they are making a [crap] ton. Example: last night, Martin and Letang both skated up the ice with the puck still in their zone. Flyers broke up a pass, and they had a 2-on-0 down low. No focus at all. Letang, for the second straight year, has shown no composure. None. He has to be so fun to play against. You probably say something about his hair and he freaks out.
Fleury is not making THE save. The defense has turned in a horrible performance thus far, but that doesn't give a goalie with Fleury's track record a Get Out Of Jail Free card. He's shown in the past that he can steal a game or make a clutch save at a crucial time. It just hasn't happened this series. It's something the Pens have needed.
And haven't gotten ...
• • •
The inevitable question is whether the Penguins or the Canucks are better suited to rally from a 2-0 deficit. The Canucks would be my choice, on the strength of their goaltending and on the smaller number of systemic problems they've faced in the first two games.
The Penguins? They're a mess.
Maybe Fleury sacks up in Game 3. Maybe Dan Bylsma tinkers with the lines, or noodles through a way to utilize Crosby on the top unit power play. Maybe Matt Niskanen returns to Ben Lovejoy doesn't gift-wrap a goal to the Flyers like he did in Game 2.
There isn't one fix. The Penguins have been outplayed, psyched out, unable to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of their rabid opponents. And on the other side of the ice, there's a team that smells blood, from Claude Giroux making a Conn Smythe case on the top line all the way down to the kids on the lower lines making the Penguins veterans look like, to paraphrase Herb Brooks, "der time is done ... dis is our time."
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