On paper, the Pittsburgh Penguins should be moving on to the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, they will be headed home and the New York Rangers will have a chance to go to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1994.
“It shows you can’t give up, you just have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing here,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.
If New York’s win over Pittsburgh seemed improbable, that’s because it was. According to WhoWins, higher-seeded teams who take a 3-1 series lead in the second round moved on to the conference finals 94 percent of the time. And none lost after their netminders posted consecutive shutouts.
— Elias Sports Bureau (@EliasSports) May 14, 2014
This isn’t the first time the Penguins have disappointed in the postseason: They haven’t won a game in the conference finals since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.
|Season||Division finish||Playoff result|
|2013-14||1st||Lost Conference Semi-Finals (4-3) versus New York Rangers|
|2012-13||1st||Lost Conference Finals (4-0) versus Boston Bruins|
|2011-12||2nd||Lost Conference Quarter-Finals (4-2) versus Philadelphia Flyers|
|2010-11||1st||Lost Conference Quarter-Finals (4-3) versus Tampa Bay Lightning|
|2009-10||2nd||Lost Conference Semi-Finals (4-3) versus Montreal Canadiens|
|2008-09||2nd||Won Stanley Cup Finals (4-3) versus Detroit Red Wings|
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “We haven’t done that in five seasons. I haven’t contemplated what the price is going to be or anything toward the future yet.”
According to Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Penguins co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and CEO David Morehouse have.
Penguins ownership will consider a sweeping overhaul that could include terminating general manager Ray Shero in addition to Dan Bylsma and the members of the coaching staff, multiple sources told the Tribune-Review. Ownership specifically is concerned about a perceived lack of accountability for players, overall team toughness and unproductive drafts, the sources said.
Unfortunately, none of those contributed to the Penguins’ loss to the Rangers. Here’s what did.
Crosby Got Cold
Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, the Penguins outshot their opponents 109-64 (63 percent of the shot attempts) with Crosby on the ice and barely broke even (52.5 percent) when he was on the bench. And while Crosby was held scoreless through the final three games of the series, he did generate chances for himself.
The Penguins captain averaged 3.2 shots per game during the regular season and 2.9 during the playoffs. However, his conversion rates were 10.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.
“Obviously, I would’ve liked to score more and contribute more,” Crosby said. “But it wasn’t for lack of effort or competing or anything like that. I’d love to tear it up every series, but it’s not always the case.”
Weak Bottom Six
Tyler Dellow hit it right on the button in early May:
If the Pens lose in the playoffs, as they probably will, it will probably involve Crosby/Malkin having a few cold games (or Marc-Andre Fleury blowing up). When that happens, people will say “Gee, Malkin/Crosby/Fleury were terrible.” Perhaps they should point out that Pittsburgh is trying to win with an abysmal bottom half of their team, which piles an awful lot of pressure on the other guys.
Here is a usage chart from the regular season, courtesy of ExtraSkater.com. The red circles on the bottom left show that Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale, Brandon Sutter and Craig Adams just couldn’t do enough against the softer matchups in terms of tilting the ice into Pittsburgh’s favor.
Some of the weaknesses could be attributed to unproductive drafts, but it could also be attributed to the salary cap and injuries — two areas Bylsma likely has limited control over.
Lundqvist made 35 saves to seal the win for the Rangers — his fifth straight Game 7 victory — and stopped 204 of the 217 shots he faced overall in the series (0.940 save percentage). None were bigger than the barrage of shots he faced with his team clinging to a one-goal lead with five minutes remaining in the all-important Game 7.
“That’s three or four of the biggest saves I’ve seen [Lundqvist] make since I’ve played with him,” the Rangers’ Marc Staal said. “Five minutes left to go, 2-1 hockey game and he comes up with that … that’s massive. Stepped up and made a bunch of huge saves. Battle hard for us. That got us the win.”
It is possible Byslma’s fate has already been decided, especially if he has indeed “lost the room,” but I don’t expect he will be out of work for long.