The Pittsburgh Penguins as we know them are probably as good as gone.
They only have themselves to blame for that, as they completed the most ill-timed three-game losing streak possible with a 2-1 Game 7 defeat to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins, who led the best-of-seven second-round playoff series 3-1, scored a total of three goals in what turned out to be the final three games of their season.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a lot to do with that drought, of course, as he stopped 35 shots in his third consecutive brilliant performance. But Marc-Andre Fleury was almost as good over the balance of the series, allowing just 15 goals to set a new NHL record for stinginess in a seven-game playoff matchup.
Somehow, it wasn’t enough to allow Pittsburgh to advance to the Eastern Conference final. Jussi Jokinen scored the Penguins’ lone goal of Game 7, depositing a rebound of Olli Maatta‘s shot to tie the game at 1 four minutes into the second period.
Evgeni Malkin, who was arguably Pittsburgh’s best player in the playoffs, earned the second assist to finish with 13 postseason points. He once again created chances galore, but the Penguins couldn’t beat Lundqvist again despite heavy late pressure against the backtracking Rangers.
As expected in a Game 7, power plays were limited. Pittsburgh got only one opportunity, and it lasted but 50 seconds in the first period before James Neal took a holding penalty to wipe it out. New York had two chances, cashing in on their second look when Martin St. Louis set up Brad Richards between the circles after a scramble near the goalmouth.
Richards’ fourth goal of the playoffs put the Rangers up 2-1 with 12 minutes to go in the second, and the Penguins dominated puck possession from there. James Neal might’ve had the best chances to tie, getting clean shots from in tight on two occasions with Pittsburgh trailing. Lundqvist stopped both, just as he denied glorious opportunities from Kris Letang and Paul Martin from the low slot with about five minutes to play.
It could be argued the Pens orchestrated one of their better performances of the postseason, but they left the result up to chance after putting forth lackluster efforts in Games 5 and 6. Their chances went further downhill when a wide-open Brian Boyle buried the opening goal of Game 7 off an assist from Dominic Moore at 5:25 of the first.
The Penguins eventually overcame the one-goal deficit on Jokinen’s strike, his team-best seventh of the playoffs, but they couldn’t get anything from Sidney Crosby, as the captain completed what has to be his most disappointing postseason to date with one goal and eight assists. Moreover, Crosby was far from his usual self and refused to attack the net on most rushes up ice.
Crosby wasn’t the only Penguin to fall short, although he will shoulder much of the blame for his team’s latest playoff ouster. Coach Dan Bylsma will take a lot of it, too, perhaps to the extent of costing him his job after five full seasons. Maybe even general manager Ray Shero is on his way out after constructing the past eight Penguins teams, although that remains to be seen.
Player personnel will assuredly change, likely in a more dramatic fashion than usual. The Penguins are once again out earlier than expected, with the fallout soon to come.