This series was over even before Brendan Shanahan suspended Claude Giroux for Game 5.
Why, you say? From the start of Game 2 to the end of Game 4, the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils played roughly 197 minutes of hockey. And by my admittedly unscientific calculations, the Flyers have controlled about 20 minutes of those three games.
Twenty minutes. That's it.
Unexpectedly, but thoroughly, the Devils have dominated the Flyers.
Not in a Pittsburgh Penguins sort of way, a "10 goals in 60 minutes" clusterfuck that leaves a team dazed but intact. New Jersey has been slow and methodical. Their forecheck has been excellent, and so has their puck movement. They're in front of every Flyers shot, and they're winning every single board battle.
They're not reinventing the wheel, nor are they doing anything that Peter Laviolette and his team haven't seen before.
And yet it's all still working. The Flyers have no answer for any of it. Game 4 was their chance to take back the series, and it ended up being maybe their worst effort of the playoffs.
A good deal of it appears to be hustle and hard work, or a complete lack thereof. Wayne Simmonds will give up the puck if you blow on him, and Jaromir Jagr just looks out of gas. Poorly timed line changes, taking frustrated penalties, a failure to backcheck properly; they've committed all the cardinal sins.
At first it seemed like the Flyers were looking past the Devils; now they just look flummoxed. Some have even suggested that the younger guys were thrown off their game by the wackiness of the Penguins series and aren't sure how to readjust to this type of pressure.
I just can't see how that could be the case, or even an excuse. Besides a series of hidden injuries that are crippling the team's best players, there are no excuses. Until that bit of information comes out (and you know it will, at least a little), all we can say for sure is that Peter DeBoer is outcoaching Peter Laviolette, and the Devils are outworking the Flyers.
The sad part is, the good Ilya Bryzgalov finally showed up for Game 4. And he was OK at worst, solid at best for Games 2 and 3. On a list of what's wrong with the team, Bryz doesn't even crack my top 10.
But it doesn't matter at this point. Even at his best, Bryz isn't close to what Jonathan Quick or Mike Smith have been in these playoffs; I don't see him outright stealing one game, let alone three. Especially if the Devils keep camping out in the Flyers' end. And I see no reason to believe they won't; the Flyers have convinced me that whatever they had going for them previously is irreparably broken.
This is a young team with a lot of promise and some legitimate stars-in-the-making. Their future remains bright. But after taking down Pittsburgh, I thought the future might be now. At the very least, I thought a Rangers/Flyers match-up in the Eastern Conference Finals was all but a certainty.
It would seem that most of us looked past the New Jersey Devils. Or maybe we gave the Flyers far too much credit for beating a sloppy Penguins team. Either way, short of a miracle that, in my mind, would be equally as impressive as coming back against Boston in 2010, tonight's game should be the season's last in Philadelphia.
As my dad texted me late on Sunday night, "I am running out of years for another Cup. Hopefully it'll happen before I am senile." He'll be 54 in a few days. I still like his odds, but a week ago I liked them a hell of a lot more.