Almost exactly four years ago, the Montreal Canadiens stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series, winning 5-2 to bring the Civic/Mellon Arena era to an unexpected end.
Prior to that unsavory conclusion, the Penguins had won eight of nine playoff series, capped by a championship in 2009. In some ways, the franchise hasn’t been the same since the Habs earned the upset in 2010, as springtime results haven’t met expectations over that four-year span.
As the Pens and New York Rangers prepare to face off in Tuesday’s Game 7, we seem to be on the verge of a another precipice. A loss for Pittsburgh would almost certainly lead to organizational changes, and probably major ones. Blowing a 3-1 series lead is bad enough, but doing so after similar playoff collapses in 2012 and ’13 may be unforgivable for certain people.
It’s not a stretch to say Dan Bylsma is coaching for his job tonight, even after signing a contract extension last summer. General manager Ray Shero stood by his man after last year’s Boston debacle, so maybe he shouldn’t be buying any green bananas just yet.
Sidney Crosby will remain a Penguin no matter what, although his lackluster play in these playoffs has brought his motivation into question for the first time in his career. This year’s scoring champion and presumed league MVP may be battling an injury or going through an ill-timed crisis in confidence, but some speculate he’s dissatisfied with how the current team has been put together.
Evgeni Malkin has been mostly terrific in the postseason, especially over the past seven games. He would appear to be safe win or lose, as his recent virtuoso play reminds us how few athletes in the sport can command a game like No. 71.
Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t been perfect, but he’s been good enough to have the Penguins through to the third round by now. Barring a complete disaster in Game 7, No. 29 figures to be in the Pittsburgh crease for the start of training camp. On the blue line, Paul Martin‘s steadiness puts him in the untouchable category.
However, everyone else on the club shouldn’t be feeling too comfortable. With the salary cap rising significantly this summer, there will be more than enough opportunity to make sweeping changes to the roster. A loss tonight could easily signal the end of an era.
Brooks Orpik once again missed the morning skate Tuesday, making him doubtful to play Game 7. The Penguins didn’t take formal line rushes, which left open the possibility they would alter their forward units after producing two goals in their past two games.
Larry Snyder and I discussed Game 7 and its implications on today’s Gospel of Hockey, part of City of Champions Radio. We also briefly went over the other three second-round series and looked at Pittsburgh’s minor-league affiliates in the Local Hockey Report: