Well... at least it wasn't a heartbreaker. You knew the Flyers were going to lose this one from the second they took that penalty in the 1st period. Timonen was back, but it didn't matter. Even a healthy Braydon Coburn, or Simon Gagne, would not have made a difference in this one.
The Penguins are simply a phenomenal collection of talent, a club for whom the stars have aligned once again. Marc-Andre Fleury is 23. Evgeni Malkin is 21. Sydney Crosby is 20. Jordan Staal is 19. That's RIDICULOUS. This group has the chance to surpass what Mario and Jaromir "Luigi" Jagr accomplished in the early 90's, winning back-to-back Cups in '91 and '92. No, we are looking at a potential dynasty more along the lines of the Gretzky-Messier-Kurri-Coffey led Oilers of the 80's.
Here's a picture of a barely concealed Mark Messier groping an autograph-seeking Gary Coleman to illustrate my point.
How did the Penguins get so good so fast? Well, it's probably because they were really bad for a really long time. A few straight years of drafting the #1 overall pick will eventually lead to a reversal in fortune, as we are seeing right now with the Tampa Bay Rays of MLB. But the fact that Pittsburgh's young guns are this good this soon is a scary thing for every team playing in the Atlantic Division.
So, where do the the Flyers go from here? The gap between the top-end talent on display for Pittsburgh and the Flyers should not discourage Philly fans, because reinforcement should be on the way. Down on the farm, forward Claude Giroux was the QMJHL's MVP in 2008, and should have a good chance of making the big club this fall. Another Flyers prospect, Middletown, NJ native James vanRiemsdyk, is developing nicely and will also have a shot to be on the roster in 2008-09. In Martin Biron, the Flyers finally have a true #1 goalie, despite the six goals he allowed on Sunday. The fragile yet super-fast Simon Gagne should be back as well to team with fellow Quebecois Danny Briere, a partnership that never materialized in 2007-08 due to Gagne's injury.
Flyers' prospect Claude Giroux:
The Flyers could use more depth at D next year, as their thin blue-line corps was exposed and exploited in the Pittsburgh series. Aside from that though, there is nothing really special the Flyers must do to return to the NHL's final four next year. Mike Richards had a breakthrough season, and is destined to wear the "C". Jeff Carter, RJ Umberger, Scottie Upshall, and Joffrey Lupul aren't going anywhere. The heart of this team is young, and should be back contending for the Cup in 2008-09. And when they get there, they might be facing a familiar foe.