|Rangers clinch series 4-3|
Well, if you’d have told us a week ago this was how things would end up, we’d have thought you were high or joking or sick in the head or any combination of the three. It’s just happened too many times to the Penguins where they’ve found ways to be disappointing in the highest form. This was supposed to be the year and the series where they’d flip the script and make things better. All the storylines were working themselves out: Fleury was silencing his critics, Malkin was awakening, Crosby scored a game-winner in Game 3, and Dan Bylsma hadn’t imploded yet. Well, here we are.
You really can’t be too terribly upset with the product the Penguins put on the ice tonight. They played a really solid game of hockey. But in Game 7′s, every minuscule mistake is magnified and any bounce can mean the difference between Game 1 of the next series or Hole #1 at Oakmont. The Penguins made an early mistake and the Rangers got an early goal. Despite battling back to tie it up, the Rangers’ much maligned power play connected after the Penguins blew a glorious shorthanded chance, and that was all Henrik Lundqvist would need. He may not be the King in the general sense, but he makes a strong case for being the king of Game Sevens.
The book closes on the Penguins’ season in similar fashion to previous years. There will be questions. There will be changes. There might be answers. Now is not necessarily the time for that. We will get to some of that stuff as a long offseason starts this morning. What we’ve got here is a breakdown of Game Seven.
This is the end, for you, my Pens.
Cover image courtesy Jamie Sabau/Getty Images. Full recap of the final episode after the Read More.
Lineup: It was Game 7, so Head Coach Dan Bylsma had to dress his best lineup. Thus, “under-performing” Beau Bennett was replaced in the lineup by “also under-performing” Tanner Glass. Related: Beau Bennett hasn’t been good, but he hasn’t been Tanner Glass Bad. Gibbons, who was the best Penguin in Games 5 and 6 got bumped up to Crosby’s line with Kunitz to start. Malkin saw time with 87, but he started in his standard role between Jokinen and Neal. Sutter centered the reemployed Glass and Stempniak. Vitale-Goc-Adams filled out the 4th line. No changes on the blue line which saw Martin-Letang, Maatta-Niskanen, and Scuderi-Brotuzzo. Engelland, Bennett, Conner, Pyatt, Orpik, and Vokoun hung out in the press box.
Before the game started, we got this:
— Trendinalia USA (@trendinaliaUS) May 13, 2014
The CEC crowd was beyond electrifying to start the game. The Pens came out banging all the bodies and pushing the pace. Sutter laid a big hit on the 3rd shift of the game, putting Klein on his wallet. Letang followed it up by destroying Dorsett in the neutral zone. The Rangers could barely find a way to get into the Pens zone and when they did, the Pens D would take the puck off of them. That is, of course, when they weren’t icing the puck. Though, for what it’s worth, they were only able to muster 2 shots on goal in the first 5+ minutes.
But remember that asshole Dominic Moore? Yeah, well after Boyle blocked Niskanen’s shot from the point, Dorsett was off to the races with Moore and Boyle. They combined on a passing play that no 4th line should ever complete and that only can be expressed visually, not literally, that Moore fed Boyle, who finished like he had hands smoother than veal cutlets. 1-0
They almost made it 2-0 shortly after that. Pouliot got in on the forecheck and stole the puck off Letang. Martin dropped down to him, so Benoit (balls) found Brassard at the side of the cage. Fleury, knowing the internet could not handle a 2 goal deficit early in the game again, made the stop to save us all. Thank you, based Flower.
About 8 minutes into it, the Pens got their best chances of the period. A blocked Nash shot by Martin allowed Gibbons to feed Kunitz up the boards. Kunitz went cross-ice to Crosby, who was bested by McDonagh one-on-four. The puck stayed with the Pens and a Martin blast from the point found the end boards, but took a home team bounce around the other side of the net to Crosby, but 87 couldn’t connect with the bouncing puck on the backhand to bury it into the wide open cage.
Following a big time MAF save off a Richards redirect in front, the Pens really started picking up the tempo. Shift after shift after shift after shift after shift, they kept the Rangers buried in their own zone. Not hesitant to take more shots than Chris Brown at a Rihanna concert, they were getting the rebounds the needed, but the Rags kept cleaning up in front of their Swedish dreamboat.
Then with 3:23 left in the period, Gibbons made a nice play in the neutral zone to get Crosby the puck. He got a step on Kreider along the boards, and to keep Crosby from taking more steps, he latched onto the bucking bronco and hauled him down to give the Pens their first PP of the game. The Rangers PK was all business for 50 seconds until Neal got a little over zealous chasing down the puck, got the free hand on Staal, and pulled him back. After the 1:10 of (uneventful) 4 on 4 hockey, the Blue Shirts got their own abbreviated powerplay. They got a real quality chance on a Zuccarello one-timer from the slot, but Fleury just swallowed it up before killing off the minor.
After the kill and with Crosby on the ice, Scuderi connected on a long stretch pass to Crosby, who was in one-on-one against Girardi. He looked like he had a step, but instead stopped up and tried to get the Ranger so skate passed, but he didn’t and poked the puck off 87′s twig with just a few seconds left in the period.
The Pens took a 10-7 shot advantage and a 14-10 attempted shot lead into the locker room. The Penguins dominated the puck possession, holding the Rangers to 0 attempted shots 4 different times for 3-5 minutes each time, but weren’t able to capitalize. The Pens were also helped in that department by doubling up the Rangers 18-9 in faceoffs, while the Rangers had a slight 16-13 lead in hits (Niskanen had 4 alone in the first frame).
The Pens were unlucky not to score on the first shift of the period as Martin found Crosby with a cross-zone feed for 87 to swing on net on the backhand. Kunitz looked for the rebound as Lundqvist covered it up and Nash got away with tripping up Gibbons driving the net and forced him to crash into the cage, getting up slowly. Ghost Jammed.
Then the Rangers were unlucky not to score on the second shift of the period. That deadly Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello line was right back at it again, working their tails off deep in the offensive zone. Brassard dug the puck free and found Pouliot in the slot. Benoit Balls somehow got the bouncing puck towards the cage with Letang pressuring, but it clanked off the iron.
They dodged the bullet and made sure the Rangers did not on their next chance. Jokinen-Malkin-Neal put on their forechecking pants and went to work with Malkin leading the charge. They managed to seal off the boards and prohibit the Rangers from cleanly getting the puck out. Eventually, Maatta ended up with the puck and he launched one on net. Neal looked like he got a piece of it in front and created a juicy rebound for Jokinen to collect and fire home. 1-1
As has been the case all series long, the Alain Vigneault followed up a Pens goal and possible swing in momentum by throwing Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello out. They did not disappoint and stirred some things up on an odd man rush, with Brassard finding Girardi joining the rush late with a great feed, but Fleury was up to the task with a better save. That line kept the puck in the zone after the save and Brassard ended up getting some separation before Niskanen tripped him up to put the Pens down a man for the 2nd time. They didn’t falter that time. There’s some stupid old saying that you’re most vulnerable after almost scoring or whatever, and after Sutter almost buried a shorty at one end, the Rangers converted at the other. They came in on the rush with Stepan, who had St. Louis kind of open at the side of the net. He looked to find MSL with the pass, but Maatta broke it up only so far as to allow MSL to knock it out of the air into the slot where Richards was streaking in from the point 7:56 into the period. 2-1
The Penguins weren’t not getting chances after the go-ahead goal. Letang rang one off the pipe with a Kunitz screen/tip in front, Malkin and Crosby were temporarily reunited, Kunitz-Crosby-Gibbons were doing big things. Crosby found Kunitz driving the net on a slick #JustCrosbyThings pass that 14 moved to the backhand and almost beat Lundqvist with. Gibbons crashed in too, but couldn’t find a way to guide it home with about 5 minutes left. A few minutes later, Jokinen-Malkin-Neal were also doing big things, again utilizing the forecheck. They forced a turnover in the corner and Juice found Neal all alone in front of Lundqvist, but the King would not be dethroned by a touch of ginger.
At the end of the period, the Pens had picked up 13 shots to the Rangers 6, taking the total to 23-13 through 40 minutes. They continued the trend of having more of the puck, though they were fighting it for a few minutes here and there, taking the Fenwick count to 33-24 through 2 periods. Again, as they did for the majority of the series, the Penguins responded well after giving up the 2nd goal, holding the Rangers to just 1 shot on goal while firing 5 shots on goal themselves. Pittsburgh also stayed in control in the faceoff battle, taking the total to 28-19 after the 2nd frame.
Right at the onset of the period, Brad Richards and Marc Staal looked determined to gift wrap a goal for the Pens. Richards threw a pass from the corner into the center of the defensive zone looking for Staal, who is only actually good at getting away with blatant penalties as it turns out. He couldn’t handle the pass and Neal was able to pick it up and get it to the point. The point shot was tipped by Malkin in front and Neal got a hold of the loose puck once again, but wasn’t able to finish like it was 2011.
If there was going to be a Penguin player to drag them out of the hole, it was going to be Evgeni Malkin. Every shift he took in the 3rd period, he looked like he was going to score and was all about being the only one allowed to touch the puck on either team. About 5 minutes into the period, he found some space to get a redirect in front that Lundqvist was able to deny with a great pad save. Then nearly 2 minutes later, he sealed off the boards yet again and set up shot behind the net, swung out, and found Neal. Neal’s shot found bodies in front before Malkin worked it to Martin at the point for a clean look that Lundqvist saved again.
Back at the other end, Maatta basically pokechecked Fleury and almost scored on him, cleaned it up a little bit before St. Louis swooped in and almost buried a backhander. The Pens escaped before Richards made a diving play to poke the puck into the neutral zone and take Maatta out at the same time. St. Louis and Nash were off on a 2 on 1 against Niskanen. They played catch before St. Louis fired it and celebrated, but he missed high and wide. Down and out Maatta almost hit the Square button to take the Coward’s Way Out. What a rough game he had, too.
The Evgeni Malkin Bright Spot kept illuminating CEC and there really aren’t enough words to illustrate how good Malkin was in the 3rd. His play really elevated Neal, who, until he got robbed in the 2nd, we weren’t sure was even playing. Nevertheless, he was flying in the 3rd and combined with Malkin as 71 drew two guys to him before dishing back to 18 with over 7 minutes to play. Neal turned the corner and looked poised to walk around Lundqvist, but turned aside by a Kingdom defending pokecheck.
With 5:15 left, the Malkin line again did all the right things. Neal found a way to steal the puck and again walk out in front. This time, he got the shot off. The Rangers managed to pile all 5 skates into the crease with Lundqvist as all sorts of chaos and mayhem and anarchy broke out. Letang got a loose puck and ripped it on net. Nope. Rebound came to Martin, who deked to his backhand and threw it at the net. It hit and errant stick and jumped up on Lundqvist. He didn’t know much about the save that he made, but was made aware of it as Malkin dove in to try to poke it free/drive Lundqvist into the net. More chaos and mayhem but the referees policed the game enough to send Malkin and McDonagh each to the box for roughing.
With about 1:20 left, Fleury was pulled for the extra skater. The Penguins weren’t able to get into the zone until about 35 seconds left as the Rangers closed down every bit of space. When the Pens dumped the puck in, Lundqvist was handling it every time to set his D up to clear it out. The Pens managed to keep the Rangers from scoring on the empty net, but that was about it. The Blue Shirts just rode it out and closed out the Pens season. Game.
1) Can’t fault the Pens effort in this one. They played at a very high level and Henrik Lundqvist continued his Game 7 dominance. What you can fault the Penguins for is letting it get to this point. It is absolutely inexcusable to squander a 3-1 series lead, with two chances to close out a team on home ice. Good teams make mistakes like that occasionally. Great teams don’t. This was clearly not a great team, for whatever reason.
2) Nothing bad to say about Evgeni Malkin, who played like a man possessed basically since Game 6 of the Columbus series. He couldn’t be contained, and it’s efforts like the ones he turned in in recent games that get you frustrated when he goes missing as he is apt to do on occasion.
3) Lundqvist (35 saves, gave up just 3 goals in the last 3 games) was outstanding. There’s no getting around that, and we don’t want to hear it any more than you do. He was also getting a lot of help from his defense, who would collapse on him and clear the crease before the Penguins were able to gather in the rare rebounds for second opportunities. But you can’t play that style unless you go get the lead, and the Rangers were able to get an early lead 3 games in a row en route to flipping the series.
4) Worth bringing up the stats to illustrate how good Lundqvist really was in this game:
The Pens had a 49-32 advantage in the above Fenwick chart, holding the Rangers to just 8 attempted shots in the 3rd period. They also had a 65-38 Corsi advantage and put 36 shots on goal. Just one Penguin posted a CF% under 50% and that was Tanner Glass at 28.6% in his 6:08 of ice time, while Matt Niskanen was the only other one under 56%. Martin (5), Malkin (4), and Neal (4) led the way in shots on goal. At the end of the day, the Penguins had all of the puck, the Rangers blocked all of the shots (16 in this game alone), and Lundqvist made all of the saves.
5) Two years in a row that the Penguins were able to advance, but leaving two years in a row losing 4 in a row and 3 in a row respectively probably doesn’t bode well for anyone. It certainly doesn’t make us very happy. We don’t have the answers. But we don’t get paid to have the answers. Newsflash, though: This Penguins team was not going to win the Stanley Cup. Not a chance in hell. This might be the merciful way to go out, because we have a strong feeling Montreal or Boston would absolutely smoke the Penguins, perhaps in even more embarrassing fashion. Just sayin’.
Brace yourself. The summer of narratives is upon us.
Here's what the Penguins shouldn't do: Trade Crosby, Malkin, Letang or Martin.
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) May 14, 2014
If you’re a high-functioning sociopath, this summer is going to be fun. If not, well, buckle up. Summer Sauce Initialization Sequence Activated. Go ‘Hawks.