Two days ago, the Penguins were boasting a 2-0 series lead against the Washington Capitals in the second round of of their Stanley Cup defense.
Sidney Crosby was fully operating at “best player in the world” status, as he’s oft to do.
The prospect of putting the rival Capitals on the doorstep of a sweep sat right in front of them.
What a difference 48 hours makes.
Crosby, now sidelined with a concussion, is confirmed to miss game four. The reality that no one wants to accept is that he’ll likely be out for the rest of this series, if not beyond that.
Despite a heroic comeback effort in the waning moments of game three, the 2-0 series lead was cut in half. The Capitals somehow found a way to procure a result that was very un-Capital like for a big game in May.
In the interim, the largest black cloud of despair you’ve ever set your eyes on now rests firmly atop what was once an extremely optimistic fanbase.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason for that.
The Penguins, despite the fact that they’ll lack their captain and number one center along with their top defenseman, can still win this series.
If you think that’s crazy talk, you probably thought it’d be crazy that the Penguins would take both games in Washington to start this series without Kris Letang, right?
Nothing that I saw last night gave me any indication that the Capitals are going to walk away with this series and win the next three games outright.
Playing with just 10 forwards for the majority of the evening, the dog-tired version of the Penguins managed to carry the play for large portions of game three. They looked about as about as complete as they have at any point in this series. Marc-Andre Fleury, stellar once again, showed no signs of seeing his current hot streak come to an end anytime soon.
It took the Capitals an overtime power-play to dispatch the wounded Penguins. They completely collapsed under the pressure with a minute remaining in the game and the net empty on the other side of the ice.
Replacing Crosby is a lot like replacing Letang in the sense that its, well, impossible. It simply can’t be done. You don’t just replace a player that most people consider to be the best player in the league.
But when the puck drops tomorrow night at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins will still boast three of the top four scorers in this years playoffs in their lineup. The trio of Guentzel, Malkin, and Kessel has accounted for a total of 37 points through their first 8 playoff games.
They’ll still boast a goaltender that’s been decidedly better than his Vezina-candidate opponent through the first three games of this series.
They’ll still boast a coach that has managed his lineup masterfully through the course of another injury plagued season.
They’ll still boast the home ice advantage that they’ve been so lethal under the aforementioned head coach.
Don’t get me wrong, generating scoring-chances will be harder. The power-play has to adjust on the fly. I get all that.
But the reality is the Penguins have found themselves in these situations throughout the course of the entire year. They boasted the 4th best expected goals-for per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time in the league this year in the games they played without Crosby. They generated the 7th most scoring-chances for per 60 of any team during that timeframe as well.
The Penguins can still make things happen offensively without Crosby in the lineup. It isn’t going to be easy, but a one game head start towards winning this series can be a significant help here.
The only thing the Capitals proved in game three was it takes more than a two goal lead to dispose of the Penguins without Crosby. With a day of preparation in advance, we get to sit back and enjoy their response.
I can’t imagine the Penguins, given all thats happened in the last 48 hours, are going to lay down and die in this thing. They’re still staring that chance at a 3-1 series stranglehold right in the face.
And they’ve got the horses to execute it, even without Sidney Crosby.