So, do you still think the Pittsburgh Penguins purposely were tanking it in the final game of the regular season?
Remember that final Sunday, when the Penguins decided to sit out captain Sidney Crosby in the season finale against the Philadelphia Flyers? The conspiracy theorists believed the Penguins intentionally lost, 2-0, that afternoon to avoid having to play the Flyers in the first round and to meet the banged up and bewildering Ottawa Senators instead.
Senators coach and general manager Bryan Murray said it himself.
"I knew what was going on," Murray said at the time. "They wanted to play Ottawa ... It was fairly obvious from the drop of the puck."
Fact is, the Penguins decided to rest Crosby that day because he was still having issues after returning a second time from a high ankle sprain. And the only real cure for the injury was more rest. The decision was a no-brainer. Yes, winning and finishing first in the conference would have been nice and it would have meant another banner in the rafters, but resting Crosby and shrugging off a second-place finish helped to position them to go much deeper into the spring and potentially grab a couple of more banners that carry much more prestige.
As for the preference of playing the Senators in the first round ... duh, who wouldn't have wanted them?
The Penguins had been paying to attention to what was going on and they comfortably disposed of the Senators in four games, which is what they likely will do now to the Flyers. Would it have been different if the Flyers and Penguins had met in the first round? Maybe there wouldn't have been a sweep, which may yet be avoided, but we know which team would have prevailed.
Think about it. The only blemish for the Penguins this spring was a 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers, which prevented Pittsburgh from sweeping that series. A fifth game with the Flyers highly is doubtful as a result.
What has been so impressive about the Penguins is that on nights when Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren't putting up big numbers, when the two big lines are held in check or the damage is limited, there are more weapons. Think back to the Ottawa series when the fourth line produced big goals early and there they were again in Game 2 against the Flyers, with Max Talbot scoring the winner. Then in Game 3, it's back to normal, the two big lines taking care of business again.
Indeed, the Penguins have received a goal from every forward except Tyler Kennedy this spring.
Depth and supporting casts are huge difference makers at this time of year. The sense of confidence and the sense of accomplishment and of contributing stretches from one end of the bench to the other.
What also is impressive is the Penguins are not winning just because they have many and assorted offensive weapons. That's part of it, but they're also winning because they are playing good team defence.
Their 1.83 goals-against average is tops in the post-season. They have been allowing, on average, just 27 shots a night, which is amongst the leaders.
The Penguins are playing a patient game, good in the neutral zone and when they force turnovers they are deadly.
Coach Michel Therrien has them believing (and they have the proof to fuel the belief) that doing the little things defensively can lead to big things offensively.
In terms of dealing with adversity, the Penguins haven't faced a lot of it obviously, but after allowing the Rangers a three-goal lead in their series opener they still found a way to win, then shut them out in the second game, beating the Rangers at their game. And when they lost Game 4 and blew a two-goal lead in Game 5, they still found a way to end the series in overtime.
As for tanking on the final Sunday, this much we do know: It wasn't done out of fear and this is one time when everyone will remember who finished second.
GETTING SWEPT AWAY
The most recent time both conference finals ended in a sweep was 1992 when Pittsburgh beat Boston and Chicago defeated Edmonton in four games. The Penguins went on to sweep the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final.
Since then, the quickest ending to two conference finals was in 2001 when New Jersey beat Pittsburgh in five and Colorado did the same to St. Louis.