Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey | Last updated 4/14/12
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks were supposed to be playing hockey in June. Both Stanley Cup favorites dropped their first two games at home and now have their backs against the wall. What do they have to do to avoid a devastating first-round exit?
Neither team can realistically have much confidence right now. Their fan bases have even less confidence.
The Penguins can’t hold a lead against Philadelphia to save their lives and Marc-Andre Fleury can’t stop a beach ball (and the defense isn’t helping matters). The Canucks are without Daniel Sedin (concussion) and are getting out-worked by Los Angeles.
Both teams are staring at a long summer. However, neither series is over yet – just ask last year’s Boston Bruins.
Last spring, Claude Julien’s club dropped its first two games at home in uninspiring fashion to the sixth-seeded Montreal Canadiens. For Boston it served as a wake-up call, not a time to point fingers. They chipped away, won four of the next five games and the rest is history.
Now the Penguins and Canucks must do the same if they wish to survive the first round, let alone fulfill their expectations of being Cup contenders. But as mentioned, neither team can have a whole lot of confidence at the moment.
Dan Bylsma’s Penguins are a mess. In their last five meetings against the Flyers – all within the last month – the Penguins have jumped out to early leads of two or three goals. Only once have they been able to hold onto the lead and win, and it came in the meaningless final regular season contest. One would assume that the Flyers are in their heads because of this.
It also doesn’t help Pittsburgh’s matter that the defense has been nonexistent in the first two games – a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1; an 8-5 defeat in Game 2. Kris Letang looks anything but a top-pair defenseman, as he was terrible when the Flyers made their comeback in the series opener. The defense as a whole hung Fleury out to dry Friday night.
Before the playoffs began, it looked like the only team capable of taking out Pittsburgh was the Flyers. Right now, the Flyers are taking it to them.
No matter what happens in that series, Bylsma’s job is likely safe. The same cannot be said for the Canucks’ bench boss.
The expectations are so high in Vancouver that Alain Vigneault is in a lose-lose situation until he wins the Stanley Cup – and last year may have been his best chance to do so.
Vigneault finds his team in an 0-2 series hole for the first time since he took over in Vancouver. The Canucks have not played a must-win game all year, contrary to a Los Angeles team that has been in playoff-mode for the entire second half. The eighth-seeded Kings have taken each of the first two games by a score of 4-2, essentially putting the Presidents’ Trophy winners on the brink.
How this series plays out could determine the fate of Vigneault’s future in Vancouver. His decision-making between the pipes will be under a microscope. Does he go with Cory Schneider even though Roberto Luongo hasn’t been the reason for the Canucks’ two losses? Or does he stick with Luongo because he’s simply the starter.
Daniel Sedin or no Daniel Sedin, the Canucks should win this series. Instead, they will be fighting for their playoff lives when the puck drops on Game 3 on Sunday.
Teams with a 2-0 series lead have a distinct advantage. Historically, those teams go on to win the series 87 percent of the time. It forces the trailing team to recapture the momentum and win four of five; if they are unable to do so, their season is over.
The Penguins and Canucks can’t look at the mountain climb ahead, and instead have to go by the good ol’ cliché of ‘one game at a time’. A comeback for either juggernaut is not impossible, but it’s easier said than done. Bylsma’s gang will have to win twice in hostile Philadelphia, while the Canucks must find a way to solve Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, well, quickly.
These two clubs were on a fast track to meeting in the Stanley Cup Final. Now, less than a week into the postseason, they are fighting for their playoff lives.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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