This seems to be the norm in the NHL for the last five seasons: The Pittsburgh Penguins coming into the playoffs with more talent and confidence than anyone, but then comes a loss to a lower seed that no one can really explain. This time it was the New York Rangers, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win three consecutive games and win the series with a 2-1 victory on the road thanks to a power play goal by Brad Richards in the second period.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the team that usually has the biggest stars has found new ways to lose against lower seeds. Sidney Crosby scored just one goal in 13 postseason games, and managed only two shots in a game 7. The Penguins didn’t hold the lead in a game after taking game 4, scoring just one goal per game while the Rangers got the best from their key players when they needed them the most.
James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen were a lot more active in the final two period, making Henrik Lundqvist work very hard for the win. He turned aside 35 of 36 shots at his goal, including 26 over the final two periods. He has now won his fifth consecutive game 7 scenario, and the same kind of clutch success can be attributed to Brad Richards, being on the winning side in a game 7 for the 7th consecutive time.
What do the Penguins do now? How does this failure change their future? Last year after getting swept by the Bruins patience was shown, despite scoring twice in all four games. Dan Bylsma returned despite the criticism, and the same goes for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. This time, as spring ended too quickly for them once again, Ray Shero might be forced to make some changes that possibly should have been done last year or possibly even earlier.
We didn’t score at the big moments in big games and that falls on us and our top players. We just didn’t get it done. That’s the bottom line. It’s disappointing. We had a great team in here and a great opportunity to do good things and we just came up short; it’s a missed opportunity.
Different year, same explanations, or excuses. This might mean the end for Byslma and Fluery, but not them alone. Matt Niskanen proved to be a very good defender this year for the Penguins, but keeping him might mean letting the declining Brooks Orpik go. There is the Jussi Jokinen, proving himself to be very important in the playoffs, free agency issue to deal with, but with plenty of upcoming young defenders, the Penguins might let him go and try and trade someone for offensive talent.
It’s hard to break up a package you know is filled with talent, but after so many consecutive failures in big games and underachieving with the same staff and personnel, avoiding change is simply turning a blind eye to a problem everyone recognizes.