Sidney Crosby will be back. Evgeni Malkin too.
After that, what happens to the Pittsburgh Penguins over another postseason disappointment is anybody’s guess.
Dan Bylsma, the winningest coach in franchise history, may be out of a job. Ray Shero, the general manager who spent the last half-decade unsuccessfully trying to replicate the success of 2009, could also be gone.
When Crosby lifted the Stanley Cup in triumph on that warm night in Detroit five years ago, it was supposed to mark the beginning of hockey’s next dynasty.
That hasn’t materialized. A handful of maddening springs later, it might be time to move on. Bylsma allowed as much Tuesday night after the Penguins fell to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a 2-1 defeat that capped a stunning collapse after Pittsburgh grabbed a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“You think about it being the last game,” Bylsma said.
While the Rangers exulted at one end of the Consol Energy Center ice after advancing to hockey’s final four, the Penguins solemnly lined up for a handshake after losing a Game 7 at home for the third time in five seasons.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to go. Not this time. Despite losing over 500 man games to injury – easily the highest total in the NHL – Pittsburgh strolled to the Metropolitan Division title behind the steady and spectacular play of Crosby, who led the league in scoring and is a heavy favorite to win his second MVP award.
After surviving a bumpy six-game series with plucky Columbus in the opening round, the Penguins appeared in total control after a 4-2 win in Game 4 against the weary Rangers.
Then it all fell apart. A dismal 5-1 loss in Game 5 shifted momentum to the guys in the blue shirts. New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did the rest, including 35 sublime saves in the deciding game.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen called the debacle in Game 5 a “missed opportunity,” one that could lead to significant change in a dressing room that has been among the most stable in the league.
“When expectations are high and you don’t win, that’s normal,” Crosby said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of questions.”
At the moment, there don’t appear to be a lot of answers.
Crosby insists he’s healthy but lacked his otherworldly sharpness at times, scoring just one goal in 13 playoff games.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort or competing or anything like that,” he said. “I’d love to tear it up every series, but it’s not always the case. It doesn’t make it any easier, I’ll tell you that. It’s tough losing as it is but when you’re unable to contribute as much as you’d like, it’s even tougher.”
Maybe, but it’s become all too common for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. The Penguins have sold out every home game since Valentine’s Day in 2007 and play a brand of entertaining hockey that is overwhelmingly successful in the regular season but doesn’t always translate in the tight-checking crucible of the playoffs.
The league’s top power play during the regular season went just 1 for 20 with the man advantage against New York. Unable to generate much offense from in front of the net, the Penguins spent most of the last three games unsuccessfully peppering Lundqvist from long distance.
It’s a path that led only to frustration and an all-too-familiar result: the Penguins watching another team skate off the ice in celebration.
It happened in 2010, when Pittsburgh fell to Montreal at home in Game 7. It happened last spring, when the Penguins failed to lead the Boston Bruins for a single second while getting swept out of the conference finals.
Ray Shero doubled down after seeing his team silenced by the Bruins. Different path. Same result. Only this time there will be no doubling down. There will be only change.
“It’s all tough,” Malkin said. “We have great teammates here. We work hard. But 3-1 up in series and last three games we lost, it’s tough. See you next season, I don’t know.”
Neither does anybody else.
Sidney Crosby will be back. Evgeni Malkin too.
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Polanco, Walker lift Pirates over Dodgers
Gregory Polanco broke out of a slump with a solo home run and a tiebreaking two-run single, lifting the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 12-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night.
Polanco, hitting just .133 in his previous 11 games, smacked a bases-loaded single with two outs in the sixth to put Pittsburgh in front for good.
Rallying Dodgers snap Pirates’ win streak at 3 games
Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven strong innings, Adrian Gonzalez reached base five times and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-2 on Monday night.
Ryu (11-5) joined Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in making the Dodgers the first team in the majors with three 11-game winners.
Pirates rally to keep sweep
Taking the extra base was the key for the Pittsburgh Pirates in completing a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies.
Andrew McCutchen hit a tiebreaking single in the seventh inning, Neil Walker followed with a home run and the Pirates overcame a three-run deficit to beat the Rockies 5-3 Sunday.
McIlroy holds on to win British Open
Walking off the 18th green as the British Open champion, Rory McIlroy kept gazing at all the greats on golf’s oldest trophy.
On the claret jug, his name is etched in silver below Phil Mickelson.
Pirates take second straight over Rockies, win in 11th inning
Jordy Mercer doubled home Neil Walker with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning to lift the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 3-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.
Walker led off the inning with a single against Colorado’s Chad Bettis (0-2), moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and scored one batter later when Mercer hit a drive deep into the gap in left-center.
Eighth-inning rally carries Pirates to victory over Rockies
Travis Snider’s pinch-hit double in the eighth scored Neil Walker to spark the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Friday night.
Walker trotted home when Colorado right fielder Carlos Gonzalez couldn’t track down Snider’s sinking line drive off reliever Matt Belisle (2-5). All-Star Josh Harrison added a sacrifice fly one batter later.
Pirates in race, hope for late surge
The Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in an average, every day – if still heated – pennant race.
A season after shedding the yoke of two decades of failure with a stirring run to a playoff berth, the Pirates are just another solid if not spectacular team trying to keep pace in the jam-packed NL Central.
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