For the first time in history, the final teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs just so happened to be the previous four champions. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they have been sent home early, and then there were three.
As difficult and gut-wrenching it was for the fans to watch, the Penguins were surprisingly swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the hands of the Boston Bruins. Hard to believe, huh?
Entering the 2013 playoffs, the Penguins were certainly one of the favorites of many to win it all, but for Head Coach Dan Bylsma, it was just another year of disappointment as Pittsburgh failed to make the Finals.
To sum it up, it would be safe to say this team underachieved yet again with the talent that surrounded their depth chart.
However, there are five different reasons the Penguins folded to a much hungrier Bruins’ team. And believe it or not, goaltending was not one of them.
1. Sidney Crosby
One could say all they want about the unlimited fire power the Penguins had throughout the year, especially after the trade deadline. And one could even argue that Evgeni Malkin showed signs of struggle in the Boston series. Sure, Malkin did not record a point and was a minus- 5, but the fact is this- the team is better when their captain is on point. He was not in this scenario.
Crosby showed signs of life in the first two rounds against the New York Islanders and the Ottawa Senators. He entered the Conference Finals with 15 points (7 G, 8 A) in ten games and failed to record a point against the Bruins. Aside from not making his mark on the scoresheet, he only registered 13 shots on goal in four games (3.25 per game) after taking 46 shots the previous ten games (4.9 per game).
A lot has to do with the Bruins’ shutting him down night in and night out. But it was also his poor puck handling, careless turnovers and making blind passes (which many are used to seeing him connect on) that flustered this team.
He also showed no leadership throughout the series. No matter how many star players are in a single lineup, the captain must be the one leading by example much like all championship teams. How could we believe that Crosby was barking in the locker room and getting his players to raise their level of play when he is making the same mistakes?
2. No Composure
This team showed too much frustration after the first game. In their 6-1 loss in Game 2, there was no communication on the ice. There were numerous times where two Penguins ran into each other (this particular writer counted six) and on two of those occasions, looked as though they were body checking each other.
The Penguins were not able to feed off their home crowd simply because they were not giving the fans anything to cheer about. Brad Marchant’s early goal which came at 0:28 of the first period quieted the crowd early, and Boston was able to build on the confidence from there.
That was also the game where many believed was the beginning of a goaltender controversy. That book was shut after Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a goal on the first shot he faced after relieving Tomas Vokoun. It did not matter who was in goal simply because the Penguins seemed to have lost their edge in that game early on and once again, no composure whatsoever.
Their poor mentality led to endless mental mistakes resulting in endless scoring chances for the Bruins.
In their series win against Ottawa, Pittsburgh went 6-for-23 with the man advantage (26 percent). Noted for their dominance on the powerplay, the Penguins have proven to be one of the best in the league. It is fair to say they have intimidated their opponents with it.
Well, to say that powerplay was non-existent in the Conference Finals is an understatement. They were 0-for-15 throughout the four games mainly due to Boston’s incredible shot blocking. At times, it was a case of the Penguins unable to enter the zone, and at other times, well… once again, no composure.
Boston was able to feed off the momentum each time they killed off a big penalty and Pittsburgh sure had its chances.
The Bruins will be heading to the Stanley Cup Finals without one of their best penalty killers, Gregory Campbell after he blocked a Malkin slapshot from the point causing him to miss the rest of the season. That, my friends, is taking one for the team.
4. Bad luck
Tuukka Rask was extraordinary throughout the series and did his part especially in Game 3 when he stopped 53 shots in their 2-1 double overtime win.
Rask was also accompanied in net by the iron behind him. Pittsburgh did not get as many looks as they wanted, but it seemed as though when they did have Rask beaten, the post was there to keep the puck out of the net.
In the double overtime thriller, the Penguins hit the post a handful of times. Just imagine where this series would have gone if Pittsburgh got some of the bounces in that Game 3. Instead of being down 3-0 going into Friday night, it would be 2-1.
After an attempt to narrow this down, this certainly could be an arguable call. But it was indeed clear that Bylsma was outcoached at times throughout the series.
Claude Julien knew exactly what matchups he wanted going into each game and stuck with his initial game plan- get in Crosby’s face.
Bylsma is being questioned (at least in this column) mainly for his lineup selections. After Game 2, it was apparent that the Penguins needed some jump in the lineup. Why not replace Derryk Engelland with the speedy Simon Despres? Why was Tyler Kennedy not in the lineup in Game 1? With the offense struggling and Crosby not playing at his level, why not put Malkin with Chris Kunitz and James Neal (the best line in hockey last season)? And lastly, why was Jussi Jokinen not utilized properly?
On top of that, when John Tortorella was fired as the New York Rangers’ Head Coach last month, he was questioned about the poor play of Brad Richards. For once in his life, he took partial responsibility. It was stated by him that it is the head coach’s job to get your top players going, and he was unable to do that.
It is still early in the Penguins’ offseason now, but why can’t Bylsma be asked the same questions about Crosby and Malkin?
Surely it will be an interesting couple of months ahead for the Penguins’ organization, but with this year’s underachieving squad, what will the mastermind Ray Shero be up to?