Is it too late to pick the Penguins in three games?
OK, enough with the wise-guy stuff, but, really, is there any reason to think the series with the Philadelphia Flyers will go more than four?
I don't see one.
Reality hit the Flyers hard at Mellon Arena last night when the Penguins swarmed them with their world-class talent and won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, 4-2. It will rock 'em even harder this morning when they wake up and realize it won't be any easier in the three games ahead without their best player, defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
Talk about your one-two punches.
It's hard to imagine the Flyers getting back up.
Game 1 was the one the Flyers needed to steal. The Penguins came out just a bit flat, at least defensively.
That was to be expected after the news the night before of Timonen's blood clot in his left ankle, an injury that should sideline him for the rest of the playoffs.
It's only human to relax after the opponent takes that kind of hit.
This also figured to be the one night the Flyers would rally around Timonen's loss and have an even bigger emotional edge. Certainly, that's what Timonen was hoping when he met his teammates late yesterday afternoon and told them, "Don't feel sorry for me. You guys have a game tonight."
That turned out to be the problem.
The Flyers had to play that game against a much superior Penguins team.
Sure, they had brief hope after turning the Penguins' early defensive lapses into a 2-1 lead. Center Mike Richards beat goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with a wraparound shot that Fleury knocked into his net, a surprising goal considering Fleury's lights-out play in this postseason. Then, just 4:20 later, Richards scored again after teammate Joffrey Lupul outworked Penguins defensemen Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi in front of Fleury.
Penguins coach Michel Therrien wasn't happy but didn't blame his players for taking anything for granted because of Timonen's injury.
"We hadn't played in almost a week," Therrien said.
"The competitive level wasn't quite there in front of the net. We weren't aware of who was there. After we talked to the players, I thought we were much better."
This much is certain:
That 2-1 deficit turned out to be a mere annoyance for the Penguins.
Their stars made sure of it.
"The guys did a nice job coming back," Fleury said. "Everybody is always confident we can come back in any game."
With their talent, why not?
"When we get our chances, we score goals," said winger Petr Sykora, who got the Penguins' first one after a nice set-up pass from linemate Ryan Malone.
It couldn't have seemed fair to the Flyers to see Richards and Lupul work so hard for their second goal, then watch Sidney Crosby get an easy one 1:21 later when he swooped to the net and took a pretty pass from Marian Hossa before depositing the puck behind goaltender Martin Biron.
The next goal -- the tie-breaking goal -- hurt even more.
Evgeni Malkin -- the best player in the world in these playoffs -- beat Biron with a shot with just 6.5 seconds left in the first period.
"Huge goal, huge goal," Sykora said.
If that didn't deflate the Flyers, Malkin's second goal did after an amazing sequence early in the second period. Malkin was stopped by Biron on great shorthanded chance, an instant before he took a brutal hit from Richards. Malkin picked himself up slowly and did a little cherry-picking at the Flyers' blue line as play continued in the Penguins' end.
Malkin then took a pass from Sergei Gonchar and busted in on Biron for what amounted to a penalty shot. Malkin beat Biron with a fabulous slap shot.
"Phenomenal," Therrien said. "He's just phenomenal."
Where was that slapper on Malkin's penalty shot in Game 4 against the New York Rangers?
Not to be critical.
There was nothing to criticize about the Penguins on this night, that slow defensive start aside.
They took what figures to be the Flyers' best shot and barely flinched.
I'll be surprised if the next three games aren't even easier.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .