Gene Collier: Long offseason ahead for Crosby and Penguins

The next big thing on your Penguins calendar — I mean after the firings — arrives July 14, when the club holds its ice crew auditions.

You know, the bright, well-scrubbed young people who zip onto the ice during the breaks and hustle end-to-end, cleaning up the snow. One note: Sidney Crosby will not be auditioning; he no longer skates fast enough.

It would be terrible if the Penguins concealed a Crosby injury throughout these 2014 playoffs.

Bylsma discusses Penguins' game 7 loss to Rangers

Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma discusses his team's elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Video by Matt Freed; 5/13/2014)

Penguins fans weigh in on Bylsma, failure in playoffs

A number of Penguins fans weighed in today on the status of Coach Dan Bylsma and the failure of his team to advance past the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Video by Nate Guidry; 5/14/2014)

It would be worse if they have not.

Because if the Captain isn’t hurt, then he simply skated indifferently, fanned on shots, mishandled the puck and was just awful enough to take Dan Bylsma’s team out of these playoffs prematurely. That he will probably take Bylsma’s Penguins career with it, along with perhaps general manager Ray Shero’s, along with who knows whom or what else, all while collecting something just this side of $9 million is more than enough to remove him as the so-called face of the NHL.

“I think any time you go into an elimination game you think about the possibility of it being the last game,” said Bylsma, sitting at the postgame podium in a dark blue suit marked with chalk windows you could see the doom through. “You go into this thinking one team is going on and one team is going home, so yes, you think about it, but here again, I had a ton of confidence in our team in winning this hockey game.”

With Centre Avenue broiling along at about 88 degrees right before the puck dropped, the occasion of this first Game 7 with the New York Rangers might not necessarily have been a good day for hockey, but it was at least a Good Day to Die Hard.

And still the Penguins died soft, some would say. Despite their 36-20 advantage in shots, they never once led in a third consecutive defeat in the series and a fifth consecutive exit from the playoffs at the urging of a lower-seeded opponent.

To be sure, the notion that the Penguins left it all out there against the brilliant New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist was supported by none other than Henrik Lundqvist, who turned away 35 shots on the way to an NHL-record fifth consecutive Game 7 victory. Exactly one year ago Tuesday night, he did this same thing to the Washington Capitals, and, again, on the road.

“They were coming hard; I tried just to not think about the result, not think about the consequences,” said King Henrik. “It’s a challenge for me to just stay in there and just concentrate on the puck. You need some bounces to win in these games, for sure. But it feels great. It’s a done deal. We came back from 3-1. We just took it period by period.”

For a while in this Game 7, when it looked as if Brian Gibbons’ sprawling torso would be the only thing that would actually cross the goal line behind Lundqvist, the Penguins’ passionate audience was left to contemplate a sorry Game 7 history that has now reached, at least in one dimension, some Pirates-like futility. For all their winter success, it has been 19 years since the Penguins won a Game 7 at home.

But the ever-capable Jussi Jokinen tied the score when he whipped a rebound past Lundqvist at 4:15 into the second period, which allowed all of 3:41 for the home crowd to contemplate a fast historical rewrite. That’s when Matt Niskanen watched in horror from the penalty box as New York scored on the power play Niskanen triggered by tripping Derick Brassard.

After Brad Richards cashed in on that opportunity, it became The Lundqvist Show all the way to the final horn, and it was pretty spectacular.

Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal all had prime opportunities rejected in what remained of the second period, and Niskanen, Robert Bortuzzo and Brandon Sutter had embossed invitations to tie it in the third.

No one could, least of all Crosby, who finished the series with one goal on 19 shots and floated away from his ninth season with the Penguins without ever having scored a series-clinching goal.

“We put a lot of back pressure, a lot of back checking on their skill guys,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who additionally put his fist and/or stick into the back of Crosby’s head without reservation. “That part of the game we took away from them pretty well. That frustrates any skilled player when they’re trying to make plays across the line and they don’t have time to do that. That’s what we did, especially in the last three games.”

In the final three games, New York wiped out more than a 3-1 deficit. It rattled a franchise so badly that only its foundation might remain.

“No,” is what the foundation, No. 87, said for the 100th time in response to the same question: “Are you hurt?”

Fair enough, but there’s plenty of hurt to come.

Gene Collier:

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