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If pucks could talk, Jarome Iginla's wrist shot at the final buzzer would have let out a feeble whimper as it landed almost apologetically in the glove of Tukka Rask. It was a fitting and symbolic end to a series the Pens deserved to lose and the Bruins deserved to win. Now armed with a body of work that reads like an inventory of a losing team's most-favored excuses -- a hot goalie, injuries, a bad goalie, and no good bounces -- the Pens have another long offseason of soul-searching ahead.
Read on for the burial...
When a team loses in such a spectacularly disappointing manner, the brain can pull you in two opposite directions are the same time. There's the reactionary "fire everybody, Crosby sucks" approach, and then there's the "I'll just wait a few weeks and let this pain fade away so that when I decide what changes I want to make I will have tricked myself into thinking we were just a few bounces away" method (aka, The Full Leonsis).
The truth for Ray Shero and the Pens is somewhere in between, but he'd be wise to not waste the opportunity that comes with having your team so thoroughly embarrassed for the world to see. Though the systematic errors are glaring and the individual failures are spectacular, the common thread that binds the last four playoff disappointments was woven at the Herm Edwards School of Simplicity: the Pens don't do the right thing often enough.
It's less important what that right thing is, and much more important that the Pens either can't identify it or can't do it. The Pens started the Eastern Conference Finals playing the right way, but couldn't sustain it when it turned out that Boston was not going to be like Ottawa and pour the accelerating lubricant for the Pens' glide into the next round. So the Pens stopped playing the right way for the next 5 periods and instead dug the first three feet of their own grave. And once the Pens identified the problems in the way they played in games 1 and 2 and tightened up defensively, they could not, shot-differential be damned, consistently generate anything resembling the high quality scoring chances that the Pens would need to beat a locked-in goalie like Rask. The Pens may spend the next few weeks feeling sorry for themselves for not catching a single break over 8 periods in Boston, but that would obscure the fact that the Pens rolled over when things didn't come easily in games 1 and 2, and couldn't persevere in games 3 and 4 once they finally seemed to grasp the idea that winning playoff games is supposed to be hard.
The Pens would have eventually broken through on Rask had they continued to play the way they did in games 3 and 4, but you don't get an "eventually" in the playoffs. And, given this team's track record of mixing random slices of inexcusable chaos into their discipline sandwich, what indication is there that the Pens could have sustained their overall solid performances in games 3 and 4 anyway?
It doesn't matter what might have happened in a game 5 or if the Pens had taken the lead at any point in one of these games because they didn't. It doesn't matter if the Pens were playing the right way when they went out because they went out. By design, the playoffs require excellence across a small sample size; whether the Pens were trending in the right direction when they went out is irrelevant. There's already a trophy for trending well over a large amount of time.
|Comfort food for GTOG.|
Last night's game was exciting only because it was meaningful -- if that game happens in December, it's a total snooze fest, the kind of game where if you DVR'd it, you'd actually get mad at your roommate for NOT spoiling the score and warning you against spending three hours watching it. It's admirable (and appreciated because we watch all 82 games of it) that the Pens try to play hockey the way most people want it to be played; you know, with actual goals and excitement. But the Pens have to be careful not to martyr themselves as the paragon of the way hockey should be played. Because while it might be nice to enjoy the spoils of the afterlife -- like the MVP and Norris Trophy that could be coming in a couple days -- the bottom line is that you're dead.