Heading into Game 1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers series, Pens fans had seemingly maintained an even keel. Hopes were kept in check as the Rangers were (and still are) expected to run away with the series. Predictions of Rangers in 4 or 5 are the norm, and frankly it’s been taken as a nice change of pace for Pens fans – being the hunter instead of the hunted.
Then the Pens went and screwed it up by hanging tough with the Rangers.
The Audacity of Hope
Had the Pens not fallen behind so very early in the game, nor had they needed to face 4 Rangers man advantages in the 1st period, the game might have ended differently. That is, however, a “coulda, shoulda, woulda,” statement. The game was the game that is was, and nothing will change the fact that the Rangers are up 1-0 in the series heading into tonight’s game.
This is, after all, exactly where everyone expected the Pens to be in the series: Down. The only difference is the hope that has been kindled in the fanbase – and presumably the team itself – “Hey, these guys ain’t so tough.”
The Rangers are tough.
So are the Pens.
This Pens team has vastly under performed for the latter half of the season, and everyone has been expecting/predicting/hoping for the slump to end. Maybe, just maybe, that is happening right in front of our eyes. The Penguins coulda/shoulda/woulda won Game 1 and this hope that has been instilled will either be validated or ruthlessly crushed tonight.
If the Rangers take the Pens to the woodshed tonight, it’ll be a return to normality. It’ll once again show that a team skating only 1-2 defensemen that were originally intended to play cannot have a realistic shot at winning the Cup. It’ll show that scoring chances don’t eventually lead to scoring. It’ll show that the Pens roster shakeup either needs more time to work – or it never will. It’ll show that the shakeup in the front office isn’t paying dividends. It’ll show that this Pens team is not as good at the first half of the season led us to believe.
It’ll show failure.
What if the Pens come out and beat the Rangers, perhaps even take them to the woodshed? Does that restore hope in the Pens chances this post season?
It should… but let’s be reasonable.
A big win will be just that: A big win. It’s not like one victory is going to win the Cup, but a victory over the President’s Trophy winning Rangers at Madison Square Garden would go a long way towards showing that the Pens aren’t who we think they are. When you’re the underdog, you must win games on the road. So, a win on the road needs to be part of the plan.
If the Pens can get that win tonight, it’ll continue the process of returning to form at the proper time to build momentum for a playoff run.
Any team can be beaten, any series can be won.
If the Pens tee-off on the Rangers and pour doubt into their minds, they absolutely have a puncher’s chance to steal the series and move on to the next round. The tide may be turning before our very eyes, or it may be a return to normalcy.
In a couple hours from now, we’ll know.
Lee is a contributor here at The Hockey Writers as well as at Pens Initiative. A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, he worked an internship at VH1 Radio in NYC and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Penn State – New Kensington campus student newspaper, The Nittany Pride. You can visit Lee’s website here: leecjsobotka.com.