BOSTON – Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma was the first to the post game podium Friday night. His team had just lost its fourth straight, 1-0 to the Boston Bruins. The disappointment was dripping from Bylsma as he delivered his remarks.
Among the more salient points made by Bylsma was the fact that this season was a missed opportunity for the Penguins.
“We certainly feel that we were a team that was capable of winning a Stanley Cup,” Bylsma said. “So coming up short from that is no question, it’s disappointing, … no question you’re going to look at this as a missed opportunity.”
His two super stars, supposedly the nest players in the world, were held scoreless in a four-game series. Nary was a point collected by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The team built to win a Stanley Cup this season was held to two goals on 160 shots and the series was bookended by two Tuukka Rask shutouts.
Asked if he had ever considered there would be a lack of offense Bylsma said, “I share your (reporter) disbelief that’s a possible storyline in this series. You know, at times, even going down to maybe the last play at net by Malkin, when he had the empty net, it felt like something was keeping the puck out of the net.
“It certainly wasn’t lack of opportunity or scoring chances or situations for our team, for our players, for our power play. We did have them. And at the end it felt like not only Tuukka Rask was keeping the puck out of the net, but there was a force around the net because we had some great opportunities, good situations for our team, our players, and were not able to find any kind of goal in this series, and never a lead.”
What Bylsma did not say was that there was no lack of effort. The Penguins improved in Games 3 and 4 but that was in comparison to the first two games in Pittsburgh where the club was lackadaisical in its approach and petulant in its response to being pushed around by the Bruins.
The mantra throughout the series has been focused on the talent of the Penguins and how they were the prohibitive favorites to win the Cup in this shortened season.
But for the second straight season, Pittsburgh was eliminated by a lower ranked club, last season it was the Philadelphia Flyers doing the deed.
But this year’s loss felt different. The Eastern Conference Finals started with the Bruins outplaying the Pens in a 3-0 win; a game where the Penguins lost their cool and their patience and hockey sensibility.
That was followed by a brutal effort from one end of the Penguins bench to the other.
Throughout the series there was never a point at which the Penguins could look as their play and hang a helmet.
“We didn’t do the job. We didn’t come up with those situations in any of the games. Now I’ll look at some of those situations,” Bylsma said. “When it comes to the power play, more than half our power plays had different people on it for a variety of reasons. But, you know, we didn’t get our top unit together for more than half of them because of penalties or other situations during the course of the game.
“We didn’t have the continuity on our power play, get that goal, win the special teams that would have been the difference in one of these games. Certainly a goal in 3 and 4 would have been a different factor for us, if we were able to get that. We weren’t able to do that, so… “
But a team this laden with offensive power and talent from top to bottom should be able to not only create their own opportunities but convert the opportunities given them by the opposition. The New York Islanders in the first round exposed some problems in the Pens and the Ottawa Senators almost did the same thing.
But Boston found the scab, rubbed it off and picked at it and picked at it until the Penguins were unable to respond in any effective manner.
“Our team is a team that considers itself a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup, put together to win a Stanley Cup. That’s our expectation from day one. That’s how we build through the season. We certainly feel that we were a team that was capable of winning a Stanley Cup,” Bylsma said. “So, you know, coming up short from that, no question, it’s disappointing. No question, you feel like with the expectations that we have on ourselves, that the team has for this group, no question you’re going to look at this as a missed opportunity.
“Your second question about Jarome (Iginla). You know, I don’t think there’s a player in there that’s going to feel that they didn’t struggle at a certain part of our game, with the looks at the net, scoring opportunities.”
But the what ifs and what could have been scenarios are ineffective salves in addressing the core issue of the Penguins. Loss of focus and loss of control plagued this team throughout the series and in fact, throughout the post season.
“Evgeni Malkin shot the puck over and over and over again, had great scoring chances. He’s going to have felt he missed an opportunity and didn’t get the goals we needed, five-on-five or the power play,” Bylsma said. “You can say that about Jarome, you can say that about a lot of guys on our team, the missed opportunity that we left out there.”
But whereas the Bruins learned from previous rounds against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers the Penguins learned little from the past.
For Boston, Adam McQuaid got the game winner midway through the third period. As ked about his sudden status as the scorer whose goal got the club into the Final McQuaid was circumspect about his role.
“Well, it obviously feels good. It feels good to be able to contribute that way when you don’t normally,” McQuaid said after the game. “But I think you look at so many great efforts we had from guys tonight. The last 10 minutes of the game, guys were all over the ice, doing whatever it took to preserve that goal.
You know, Tuukka was phenomenal again for us.”
It was Boston that did all of the little things and dug deep each time the Penguins attempted a resurgence. For Patrice Bergeron, who was interviewed on NBC Sports after the match, it was about the ugly goals.
“I think we just played our game the whole time,” Bergeron told NBC Sports Network. “We put a lot of pressure in their zone, and we crashed the net and we found the ugly goals, I guess.”
Milan Lucic was perhaps a bit psychic on the night. He told NBC Sports after the game he suggested to McQuaid he would get one (a goal) Friday night.
“We were a little sluggish in the first two periods and we said we’ve got to win a period in order to win a series,” Lucic told NBC Sports Network. “I remember before the game telling [McQuaid] he was going to get one today. It ended up being a huge one for us tonight.”
Iginla was interviewed on TSN after the game and shouldered a great deal of responsibility for the loss.
“I didn’t play well,” Iginla said.
That as opposed to others on the Pens roster who felt they deserved better in each game except Game 2. One has to wonder what series these players were involved. Pittsburgh hardly played well enough to deserve to win any of the games. They were outscored 12-2, were 0-for-15 on the power play and Crosby and Malkin went scoreless and were a combined -7.
The Bruins took the starch out of the Penguins sails in Pittsburgh, and then forced them into submission in Massachusetts. Boston stuck to its game plan, played hard if not completely disciplined (Brad Marchand needs a lesson in discipline) and earned the four-game sweep.
Now the Bruins await the final decision in the west.
“The job’s not over yet,” Lucic said on TSN. Indeed, it is not.