The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Game Seven against the New York Rangers Tuesday night by a score of 2-1, allowing New York to become only the 26th team in NHL playoff history to come back and win a series after being down 3-1. This marks the second year in a row that the Pens have seen their playoffs end in heartbreak after finishing the regular season atop their division. Since taking home the Stanley Cup in 2009, Pittsburgh has accumulated the more points in the regular season than any other team in the NHL with 496 total points, just two points more than the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the Hawks have two Stanley Cup Championships under their belt during that span of time. When a team as talented as Pittsburgh continues to fail to win a championship over those past five years of winning seasons, the calls for someone’s head will certainly going to go from loud to deafening. Now as the finger of blame begins to point around the locker-room, the majority of them are sure to land on one player in particular: Marc-Andre Fleury.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the elephant in the room for quite some time now as his failure to perform in the postseason has outweighed his stellar regular season performances. Since hoisting Lord Stanley in 2009, Fleury has continued to flop in the playoffs so much so that the team had asked him to see a sports psychologist after last season’s disappointing display. Coming into this postseason, Fleury had failed to achieve a save percentage above the .900 mark (.877) and had a combined 3.36 Goals-Against Average (GAA).
This year, by the numbers, it would appear that Fleury had turned a page. In this year’s playoffs, Fleury had a reputable .915 save percentage, a 2.40 GAA and two shutouts (all in which were better than the season he lifted the Cup). However, as any Penguins fan will attest, this was just another year displaying the two-sides of Fleury. But can this year’s failure to win be placed solely on the shoulders of Marc- Andre Fleury? Of course not. Just as it is winning in the postseason, losing in the playoffs is a team effort.
For example, in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, fans got to see the Fleury of playoffs past. The net-minder had a flurry -no pun intended- of bone head plays and weak goals given up. Game Four in particular comes to mind. The Pens blew a three-goal lead as Fleury misplayed a puck behind his own net, consequently leaving a wide-open game-tying goal in the final 30 seconds of the game. Rather than redemption, fans witnessed more failure, where in overtime Fleury let in a weak, unscreened attempt from the blue-line to lose the game. Overall in that series, Fleury had an uninspiring .908 save percentage and a 2.81 GAA, but the Penguins as a team found a way to win the series.
Against the Rangers, Fleury certainly played well enough to win the series, posting a .923 save percentage, a 2.02 GAA and two consecutive shutouts. However, as a team, the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to score more than one goal per game and failed to accomplish one victory in three straight attempts, twice in front of their home crowd.
Marc-Andre Fleury will most likely receive the ax for this early departure from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he certainly was not the only reason why the Penguins lost. For example, their regular season leading scorer and captain, Sidney Crosby, had a bit of a disappearing act in the second round, scoring just one goal and held scoreless in five games. Coach Bylsma did not have an answer to the line changes made by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault after Game Four, in which the Rangers were finally able to find the back of the net, outscoring the Pens 10-3 over the final three games. The Penguins power play, which ranked number one in the league during the regular season, was non-existent as they scored one time in twenty attempts. Also, the Penguins felt the wrath of the “King” as Henrik Lundqvist stopped 102 of 105 shots in Games Five through Seven, virtually shutting down one of the best offenses in the league.
The Penguins have once again disappointedly traded in hockey sticks for golf clubs too early in the playoffs and whether or not Marc-Andre Fleury comes back to claim his in a black and gold uniform will remain to be seen. Coming into next season, it would be somewhat expected to see a bit of a roster shake up, as the Penguins have now lost to a lower-seeded team in the playoffs for a fifth straight year.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
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