They battled in Game 7 to what Dan Bylsma called “the bitter end.”
Rangers 2, Penguins 1 might not be the last of that kind of thing in and around CONSOL Energy Center this spring.
For the second time in as many postseasons the Penguins have exited a profoundly disappointed and frustrated bunch.
The lingering regret this time wasn’t so much what happened in Game 7 as it was what the Penguins had contributed toward allowing a series they once led three games to one to go the distance in the first place, specifically a 5-1 no-show at CONSOL in Game 5.
“Game 5 at home was certainly a disappointing effort on our end,” defenseman Matt Niskanen admitted. “It’s an opportunity to win, close the series when you have all the momentum. But if you’re not you better put a dent in their team, at least. Make a statement with how you play, tire ’em out, do something.
“Game 5 is a really big missed opportunity and then momentum starts to turn.”
On that front the players and the coaching staff are apparently on the same page.
“They played their best game in Game 5,” Bylsma acknowledged regarding the Rangers. “Not being able to come up with the knockout punch there in Game 5, you look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series.”
Henrik Lundqvist took over after that.
And the Penguins, unfortunately, had seen that fish before.
Undaunted, they approached the Rangers’ netminder the way they had to in Game 7.
They got the puck deep, worked the corners, got pucks and bodies to the net whenever possible.
They had the right physicality and the right mentality.
They played Game 7 the way it needed to be played.
Much like Game 4 of last year’s Eastern Conference Final against Boston, the Penguins never stopped coming in their desperate attempt to score a goal they’d ultimately never get.
But by Game 7 against New York the real damage had already been done, as it turned out, just as it had in last year’s Eastern Conference Final via a just-as-inexplicable 6-1 meltdown in Game 2 on home ice.
The disconnect in both instances is the Penguins somehow failed to grasp the urgency of the postseason moment (evening the series in Game 2 against the Bruins, ending the series in Game 5 against the Rangers).
Let the offseason search for answers begin there.
There were none in the locker room in the immediate aftermath of Rangers 2, Penguins 1.
“I don’t have an answer,” Niskanen allowed. “We’re saying the right things. We approached that game (Game 5) like it was an opportunity and we knew what could happen if we were flat.
“I wish we knew that answer, we’d fix it.”
They might need a month each with Marc-Andre Fleury's shrink before that can happen.
They should at least know this much in the wake of Rangers 2, Penguins 1: They all own it, from the coach to the general manager to the owner to the goaltender to the quote-unquote best player in the world, and everyone in between.
They should also understand that if there was a quick-fix measure to be taken, the Penguins likely would have resorted to it after last season.
The answers the Penguins are still seeking aren’t going to be any easier to identify this time around.
A public hanging might appease the masses.
It will take a great deal more than that to solve the Penguins’ fatal flaw.