It's been a great ride for the Penguins in the 2007-2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These guys have shown a lot of heart and character over the course of the first 3 rounds...and even through two scoreless games of the finals.
Even so, you can't help but get the feeling that time is running out on the Pens.
Two shutout losses in Detroit have demonstrated how complete a hockey club the Red Wings are. And how much more the Pens need to improve to even compete with this club.
At the start of the series, one of my major concerns was that the Penguins really hadn't been in a position were they had to play their best for more than a game or two leading up to the finals.
Now, they are in a position where they essentially have to play their best...most likely better than they have ever played before...for 4 of the next 5 games.
...but VERY unlikely.
The Pens are on a learning curve. And a very steep one at that. They are being taught the finer points of positioning and puck movement by the team that is clearly the best in the league at both.
They are being taught what the Red Wings already know...and what they seem to utilize to their advantage on every play..YOU CAN'T OUTSKATE THE PUCK.
When you watch the finals, you get the feeling the Wings are faster...or better skaters...or better defensively.
While all of these things may be true...the real reason it appears that way is Detroit's almost unreal ability to position themselves for success on every play...and then move the puck quickly to put the opposition on it's heals.
It almost seems like the Pens neeed to skate harder...or faster...
But no, I don't think it's a question of the Pens needing to skate harder...it's a question of them needing to skate smarter.
The Wings are simply the best at making sure all skaters...ESPECIALLY those that are not carrying or near the puck, are in the proper position to turn the play in their favor in an instant.
And an instant is all it takes for the Wings to begin their attack. Once they get the puck, it seems that it is moved to the next player or advantageous open space before the Pens even have time to react. Like a great chess player...always a move or two ahead of his opponent.
It seems almost hopeless watching the Pens try and react. And in reality...it is. Because no matter how hard you try, you just can't skate faster than the puck. You can't REACT quickly enough to make a difference.
The Pens do have hope though. If they can learn quickly enough how to position themselves and pass the puck in the same way that the Wings do, they have a chance to make this a series. If they could do those things, then they would certainly take away the Wings ability to control the play as often, which would at least give them a fighting chance.
But time is certainly running out in that respect as well.