PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 22: Pittsburgh Penguins players look grim on the bench late in the third period as the Philadelphia Flyers won Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals by a score of 5-1 to eliminate the Penguins from the playoffs during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 22, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
The Penguins failed in the playoffs, and no one person is to blame. The team will face tough decisions this offseason.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost in the playoffs before. 24 times, to be exact. It will happen again. However, this year's team won't be remembered like other teams that bowed out early in the playoffs. This team is different that the team that lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, the team that lost to the New Jersey Devils in 2001, or the one that lost to the Montreal Canadiens in 1998. This team will be remembered for its failures. It will be remember like the 1993 team that lost to David Volek and Islanders. Maybe it reminds you of the team that lost to the miracle Florida Panthers in 1996. What did those teams have in common? Promise.
This Penguins team had the chance to be something truly special. Evgeni Malkin's MVP season went to waste. Sidney Crosby was finally healthy and ready to compete for another Stanley Cup. James Neal had a breakout season and hit the 40-goal mark. Players like Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz had career seasons. Marc-Andre Fleury posted a career high in wins. This Penguins team was talented and stacked. And it failed.
Crosby and Malkin were not the $8.7 million centers they normally are during this series. Give a lot of credit to the Flyers, especially Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. Speaking of Giroux, I hope Pittsburgh fans get used to the kid, because he's a true star. Staal did his best to carry the Pens, but poor defensive play, netminding, and discipline were the downfall of this team. What's that you say? Chris Kunitz just took another dumb penalty? Shocking!
A lot of people will blame coaching, as they always do. A lot of people will blame the goalie, as they always do. A lot of people will blame Paul Martin. However, the blame cannot be placed on just one aspect of the Pens' game. That's probably the most frustrating thing about the Penguins' elimination. The entire team, from top to bottom, failed in one way or another. The long offseason will allow time for reflection and adjustments. The Jordan Staal contract situation should be interesting, as will the current makeup of the defensive corps. Paul Martin was virtually a healthy scratch the last two games. And it would be unfair of me to neglect mentioning the play of Simon Despres and Brian Strait. Those guys played brilliantly in tough situations. Dan Bylsma put a lot of faith in them for both Games 5 and 6. That might be the one positive to take away from this series.
I doubt Ray Shero will make any major changes. Disco Dan is here to stay. So is Marc-Andre Fleury. However, the Penguins may need to adjust their defense and style of play, because it looks like the Flyers are here to stay as well, with a roster just as talented as that of the Pens. Maybe that was the problem all along: the Flyers are just a better team. We have a whole offseason to stew on that thought.