After two long days of distracting myself, I have come to terms with there being no Pittsburgh Penguins hockey until training camp opens in the fall.
I can’t say I was overly mad the other night as the clock struck zero on Game 7 and the scoreboard read Tampa Bay 1, Pittsburgh 0.
Sure, there was an empty feeling. All the emotions ran through my head from anger to acceptance.
I hate to play the “well nobody expected them to even get this far” card, but I almost feel compelled.
Yes, blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing the series is a tough pill to swallow. Yes, the power play was atrocious. Yes, Deryk Engelland and Eric Tangradi should have been in the lineup well before Game 7 and during.
The thing is, how many people broke their ankles jumping off the bandwagon when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin suffered season-ending injuries?
The media went nuts over it saying things like, “There goes the season,” “The Penguins are done like dinner,” etc.
At a time when any other team would have folded up like a lawn chair and started making early tee times, the Penguins united and did something pretty special.
How many other teams around the league could lose their top two players and continue to challenge for the division title?
Crosby and Malkin are two of the best players in the world. For another team to equal that loss, they may have to lose three or four guys.
But, it wasn’t just Crosby and Malkin. Arron Asham, Mark Letestu, Dustin Jeffrey, Chris Kunitz, Tangradi, Nick Johnson, Mike Comrie, etc. were also injured at the same time as the two-headed monster.
Did the Penguins play the pity card?
They went to work and found ways to win hockey games and ended up finishing with the No. 4 seed in the conference.
Everyone knows this is Crosby’s team, but this season it became Marc-Andre Fleury’s.
Without him, the team barely makes the playoffs, if at all.
Fleury did everything asked of him and then some. If he could score goals, maybe the Penguins advance to the second round of the playoffs. Alas, he’s a goaltender and goals from the masked men are few and far between. (Insert joke about the ineptitude of the power play here.)
This team has nothing to hang their heads about. No one wants to blow a 3-1 series lead, but I really think the team ran out of gas.
Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Kris Letang and Paul Martin were seeing extended minutes since Malkin’s injury. In the first round, each was forced to play over 20 minutes a game. By Game 5, they looked visibly tired after the first period.
These things happen. They shouldn’t, but they do. At least the Penguins didn’t blow a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 like the Boston Bruins last year.
The Penguins will be back. Remember the last time they lost in the first round of the playoffs? They came back the next year and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
We won’t talk about the outcome of the 2008 Finals, but you get the picture.
Crosby and Malkin should be back for the start of training camp. There may be a few new faces depending on what happens in free agency, but time will tell.
The good news is that goaltending and the defense shouldn’t change too much, if at all.
It will be up to Ray Shero to go out and find some scorers to fill the top two lines.
I would gladly re-sign Mike Rupp, Tyler Kennedy, Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis. Craig Adams is another guy I’d love to see back, but I know the likelihood of all five guys being back is slim to none in the new salary cap era.
I’ll take a look at the upcoming free agents as we get closer to July 1, but for now I’ll just enjoy watching playoff hockey.
I know I’m a couple days late on this, but the wife and I have been working on our new house for a couple days, which hasn’t allowed for much time to do anything else.
In the first round I went 6 for 8, with the only losses being Buffalo and Pittsburgh in seven games each.
That’s probably an unofficial record for me.
As far as the second round goes here’s what I think happens:
- Washington over Tampa Bay in six games
- Philadelphia over Boston in six games
- Vancouver over Nashville in five games
- Detroit over San Jose in seven games
Again, I wouldn’t go placing wagers on my prognostications. That first round success was a probably total fluke.
Anyway, keep your heads up Pens fans, the team will be on a mission next season.
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CaseySheaPens.