Penguins' Olli Maatta and Sidney Crosby after losing to the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.
The Penguins hang their heads after losing to the New York Rangers in game seven at Consol Energy Center Tuesday night.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins can blame their power play. And they should.
They can point to numerous unforced errors and letdowns. Perfectly appropriate.
But, when they break down the latest in a five-year run of playoff disappointments -- the one rooted in a 2-1 loss to New York in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center -- it will be impossible to overstate the impact of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
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)
He might not have been the only reason the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference final, but he certainly is the biggest.
"You expect him to be on the best player on the ice every single night," Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said.
Lundqvist was that -- and a good bit more -- in Game 7.
He turned aside 35 shots, more than a few during a desperate late-game surge by the Penguins, to become the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Games 7.
And he has come by that accomplishment honestly: Lundqvist has allowed one goal in four of those victories, none in the other.
"Not that you take it for granted, but going into a [Game 7], you know he's going to be at his best," New York defenseman Marc Staal said.
Regardless of how well Lundqvist played, the Penguins were betrayed late in the series by an offense that is among the most volatile in the NHL as they scored just three goals in the final three games.
"[Lundqvist] kind of got in the zone there, and we didn't beat him," forward Brian Gibbons said.
Having a power play that was the NHL's best in the regular season generate one goal in 20 tries didn't help.
Nor did having some of their most prominent players fail to show up on the scoresheet with any regularity.
Sidney Crosby had just one goal in 13 games during these playoffs, hardly the output expected of the league's regular-season scoring champion. Throw in the 2013 Eastern Conference final against Boston, and he has one goal in the past three series.
Not that Crosby was the only forward who did not produce as anticipated.
James Neal, who had 27 goals in 59 games in the regular season, got two on 49 shots in the playoffs. Kunitz had one goal in the final eight games of the postseason.
Having their season end Tuesday night earned the Penguins a few distinctions that figure to gnaw at them during the offseason that begins today.
* Been eliminated by a lower-seeded opponent five consecutive springs.
* Lost a series in which they held a 3-1 lead for the second time in the past four years. They beat Tampa Bay in three of the first four games in 2011 before the Lightning strung together three victories.
*Allowed New York to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series for the first time in 17 tries.
* Fallen to 2-7 in Games 7 played at home.
In retrospect, the Penguins were one goal away from a series sweep -- they lost the opener, 3-2, in overtime -- but had a chokehold on the series after winning Games 2, 3 and 4.
An utterly lackluster showing in a 5-1 loss in Game 5 altered the course of the series, giving the Rangers momentum they never relinquished.
The Penguins never had a lead in the final three games.
"Not being able to come up with a knockout punch there in Game 5, you look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Precisely what the fallout from their latest postseason failure will be -- and when it will begin -- remains to be seen, but there seems to be little doubt that major changes are coming before training camp opens.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup," Bylsma said. "We haven't done that in five seasons."
He added that he hasn't "contemplated the price" that will be paid for yet another abrupt and premature end to a playoff run.
Those will be the long-term repercussions. The short-term ones were evident in the locker room after Game 7.
"It stings that the season is over," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "And that you have one less chance to try to win the Stanley Cup."
That brings the total for lost opportunities since their Stanley Cup-winning season in 2009 to five, if anyone is counting.
Which the people in ownership and upper management surely are.
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