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Pittsburgh Penguins at crossroads after stunning 2013 playoff collapse

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Evgeni Malkin (71) and the Penguins may have suffered the worst playoff loss in team history. (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Evgeni Malkin (71) and the Penguins suffered what may be the worst defeat in team history. (Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Remember the 2009 Stanley Cup? It was supposed to be a coming-out party for Pittsburgh’s coterie of young superstars, the first in what surely would be a dynastic run of championships that would define the NHL’s new decade.

Just four years later, that seven-game victory over the Detroit Red Wings is starting to look like lightning in a bottle. A series of fortuitous events that culminated in an unlikely title for a team whose hypotheticals always look better than their reality.

Since then, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been a good team that aspires to greatness, but always finds it resides somewhere out of their grasp. A group whose vision always seems to be focused on a prize off in the distance instead of the obstacle directly in front of them.

The Penguins are good. Just not good enough.

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Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review aptly described the Pens as the game’s “paper champions” four years running. Could any slight be more devastating? More condescending? More accurate? Look at that roster, loaded with MVPs, scoring champs, All-Stars and first-rounders, bolstered at the trade deadline by a quartet of savvy veterans. Fantasy hockey rosters are never this stacked.

But something was missing that couldn’t be seen on paper.

More often than not, the Cup is won by a team that doesn’t simply reach its potential, but exceeds it, digging deep at critical moments to find wells of strength or courage or stamina it didn’t know existed.

HACKEL: Penguins prove talent alone is not enough

These Penguins have consistently settled for less. Not because they don’t know where to dig, but because it probably never occurred to them they needed to. This is a team that continues to prize skill over will. Was that ever more apparent than last night? Watching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin trying to stickhandle their way through Boston’s smothering defense only to be rejected again and again offered the perfect allegory to their failings. Right to the end, the Penguins thought talent would win out. The Bruins were a team that thought team would win out.

Four games later, we know which one was right.

Will this go down as the worst loss in franchise history? Hard to imagine one that was more crushing or more convincing. In fact, it may go down as the worst performance ever by a top seed. Two goals! Two lousy goals on 139 shots over 14 periods of play. A power play that went 0-for-15. A defense that was too easily scrambled, a forward corps that couldn’t shoot straight and couldn’t be convinced to simply drive the net. A team whose best players were Matt Cooke and Paul Martin, and whose leaders, Crosby and Malkin, both wore the golden sombrero. No goals, no assists, no points.

Awful.

And so the question is: What happens now?

GM Ray Shero has some interesting decisions ahead, starting with his coach.

I’m on the record as saying Dan Bylsma should have addressed his team’s lack of composure in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final, but that failing shouldn’t cost him his hob. But after watching last night, I’m not so sure. The Pens were a more competitive team in Games 3 and 4, tighter defensively, better on the draw, and spent more time with the puck. But even when facing elimination, Bylsma crafted no ambitious counterattack, showed little creativity with his lines, and failed to curb the urges of Crosby and Malkin to try to save the season all by themselves.

Dan Bylsma is a good coach, but he lacked the imagination to win even a single game in this series. If someone has to pay the price for this debacle, it’s probably him.

But that’s probably the least of Shero’s worries. The roster will be the real challenge. According to capgeek.com, he has 18 players under contract for next season at a cap hit of about $54 million. That leaves him about $10 million to either parse out among free agents Pascal Dupuis, Matt Cooke and Craig Adams, or on new pieces that will spice up the recipe. His prize trade deadline acquisitions — Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray — will be cut loose.

Malkin is entering the last year of his contract, as are Chris Kunitz, Brooks Orpik and Norris finalist Kris Letang. Any of them could be signed to extensions this summer, but it’s impossible that all will be.

And then there’s Marc-Andre Fleury, the goaltender for that 2009 Cup winner who was relegated to the bench for all but a few minutes after playing his way out of the starting gig in Round 1. This is the second year in a row he’s melted down in the postseason. It’s hard to imagine the 28-year-old being given a third chance.

He was part of a bright future not so long ago, but failed to live up to the opportunities he was presented.

You can say that about most of this team.

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  • Published On Jun 08, 2013
  • 16 comments
    johnc596
    johnc596

    Yes, but everyone's confident in Fleury in net and Shero's confident in the coach that's turned playoff disappointment into an art form.  What's the problem?

    MichaelWelling
    MichaelWelling

    Its hard to blame the refs when you get smoked 6-1 in your own house. If there is an officiating artistry as suggested, then intelligent coaches will adjust their game plans accordingly. I will admit I did not get to watch the entire series (although it was pretty short), but people have the right to complain about the refs when they lose a series based on a controversial call. (See Wings v. Blackhawks, Game 7) There was nothing remotely close to that in this series. This series was a two hit fight. Boston hit Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh hit the ground.

    worldwatcher
    worldwatcher

    Well now that this series is all said and done, I will have my say.  The  Bruins won and the Penguins lost for a variety of reasons, but one thing should be clear, Boston was the best team, by far.  Having said that, Pittsburgh coaching and management need to take a look at how the Penguins didn't exit their defensive zone.  After all this four years of Bylsma, his standard line of "get to our game"(for you non-Pittsburghers possess the puck in the offensive zone) ran its course and will cost him his job.  He never considered that fact that you have to have ways to get to the offensive zone before you can dominate there.  

    And just as DonGange2 says, the Bruins exploited and the Penguins fell victim to the retreat to the old days of clutching and grabbing offensive players without penalty.  This brings the level of skill to a minuscule difference between teams and certainly rewards teams for stacking up on size and defense over teams that have allot of skill and go out and get more.  Defense first (and sometimes defense only) is the mantra for all successful teams in the playoffs, something the Bruins were and the Penguins were not.  Everyone in Pittsburgh is blaming Crosby (all you haters out there will love it) for the Penguins failure.  "Crosby did nothing" and "where was Crosby."  Crosby was in the quicksand the Bruins created for him before the series consisting of Chara and Bergeron et al.  Coach Julien decided that someone other than Crosby would beat them so he was given an assignment anyone would have failed at. 

    We are really in shock in Pittsburgh about this series.  Two goals in 4 games with that roster is outrageous, unthinkable.  I think many people connected with the Penguins must think about correcting that in the future or all this time with Crosby and Malkin will go to waste.  

    The NHL must take a look at this too, though.  The hockey is ugly this time of year.  Poor officiating accounts for allot of the few goals that are scored as well.  The art becomes realizing how the game will be called more that let's play and that is a shame.  Crosby and Malkin will be missed in the finals by many people.

    DonGange2
    DonGange2

    Penguins are a victim of the NHL's floating rules. The game is called one way all year and then in playoffs a new set of rules emerge. Winning in the NHL doesn't include skill and artistry because thuggery, hooks and holding are rewarded. Gary Bettman's NHL doesn't allow for it's stars to shine brightest, the old boys would rather the Shawn Thornton's be the stars. Sooooooooooooo boring

    doghockey
    doghockey

    Time to hear from the folks who, just a few days ago, were telling us that the Penguins are a more talented team than the Bruins. Four nil says they are not.

    WAR
    WAR

    @MichaelWelling The 6-1 game was one game.  Jagr's hook (A technique he's perfected the last few years, btw) was blatant, resulted in a turnover that lead to the GWG.  Anyone who *thinks* that refs affect the game with calls has to *think* that they affect it with non calls as well.  Games 1, 3 and 4 were very evenly played...in fact, one can make the case that games 3 and 4 tilted to the Pens in every aspect except the score.  

     A good idea for you would be to not make so many pronouncements about *things* that you, yourself, admit you know very little about...maybe had you actually watched the series you would be taken more seriously...

    sjq294
    sjq294

    @DonGange2 You were not watching the series. Pittburgh outhit the Bruins and  outthugged the Bruins. Shawn Thornton barely played and did not have a single fight or memorable hit. The Penguins were clearly outplayed, outhustled, and outcoached.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @DonGange2 Apparently, instead of actually watching the games, you are going on hearsay.  The series was not overly physical.  The Bruins opted to skate with the Penguins,  but instead of skating with them, they skated around them, past them, and over them a few times for good measure.  Four-nil has nothing to with a few phantom penalties.  It has everything to do with one team completely dominating the other. 

    ScottMensch1
    ScottMensch1

    El-Tardo-Don they lost 6-1. Some stars were shining bright.

    Dustin Madlung
    Dustin Madlung

    Talent doen't equal wins as the article states. Penguins were more talented the bruins a better a team.

    MichaelWelling
    MichaelWelling

    @WAR @MichaelWelling It matters little if I watched the entire series. Its one thing if a ref decides a game. But four games in succession? Doubtful.The 6-1 beatdown, while yes it was one game, it was also a case in point. I doubt the refs decided that game. Was the GWG off a no call? Fine. But that is one goal out of SIX. Logically speaking, I find it hard to justify the refs being stacked against you when you get swept. 

    You say that everything was even but the score? Ha! The score is what matters. That's like saying they gained 600 yards, but scored 3 points and lost. They lost. Period. The Pens lost. 4 times. In a row. Period. The better team won. You can whine all you want about the refs, but the Pens got straight up beat. The score reflects that. Yes, most games were close, but the games were still won by the Bruins.


    As far as being taken seriously? You can't take the world seriously. (World Series). You want me to take you seriously? Stop hiding behind blank avatars and generic handles. Stop trying to be macho online and trying to tell me what would be a "good idea." My "pronouncements" are based on logic, and not being a fan boy. No matter how you slice it, the Pens lost. 4-0, and they have no one to blame but themselves and the Bruins.

    AimHigh
    AimHigh

    @sjq294 @DonGange2 Exactly, the Bruins have outhustled the Rangers and the Penguins (didn't see the Toronto series). They backchecked ferociously, jumped into the play to create odd-man rushes, and just generally outworked the other teams. The best players in the world will have a difficult time fighting that off. The other thing about the Bruins is that they have people on all their lines that can put the puck in the net if given the opportunity. Take a minute off against any of those lines and the puck will be in the back of the net. To top it off, amazingly, the Penguins rarely managed to get the puck more than a foot or so off the ice when shooting. Neal and Malkin had more quality shots in Game 3 alone than most players get in the entire playoffs. Rask played his best game, but you can't score if you can't get the puck up higher than Rask's belly button. Memo to Neal and Malkin this summer: shoot high in practice.

    doghockey
    doghockey

    @Dustin Madlung You guys get credit for sticking to your guns.  If Pittsburgh had gone out 4-3 in a hard fought series, your point would have some validity, but getting shutout in games and almost in goals for the entire series says that the talent is overrated.   Oh, and talent does equal wins.  Boston has more talent than Pittsburgh & just picked up four convincing wins proving it.

    Dustin Madlung
    Dustin Madlung

    I am not a pittsburgh fan, and was rooting for boston in the series. Boston won the series and outplayed pittsburgh enough to win the close games. Its hard to judge pittsburgh's overall talent because a lot of what they do starts with malkin and crosby and the rest of them are supporting players. Boston has studs on their team as well, and overall their is not as much as a talent gap as the media indicates. If I had to pick a team from the two, I would start with Malkin or Rask though.