IT’S OVER: Penguins Playoff Streak Ends, Islanders Clinch Berth
It’s over. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 16-year playoff streak ended Wednesday when they were eliminated from playoff contention by the New York Islanders, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 at UBS Arena.
The Penguins squandered their chance Tuesday when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2. New York needed only one point Wednesday. Now, the Penguins face the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday at Nationwide Arena in a meaningless game.
It is the final game of the Penguins’ 2022-23 season.
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Pittsburgh Penguins Playoff Streak
The streak began with such promise in 2006-007. There was excitement and enthusiasm in all corners, even for the hard lessons learned through defeat. With four top-two picks coming into their own (Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal), the Penguins were everyone’s pick to become great.
The Penguins and young captain Sidney Crosby reached greatness faster than anyone could have predicted. After losing their first playoff series to the grizzled veteran Ottawa Senators in 2007, the prevailing sentiment posited the Penguins had to learn how to win and was just given a great lesson by Ottawa.
Crosby and the Penguins stormed to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. With some irony, those Red Wings had an average age of 32.1, slightly older than the current Pittsburgh Penguins roster.
The Penguins weren’t successful that season, losing the Cup Final in six games, but they won the chalice the following year in Game 7. Max Talbot had a pair of goals, and Marc-Andre Fleury made a diving save at the final horn on Hall of Fame defenseman Nick Lidstrom.
Crosby became the youngest captain to ever win the Cup.
However, the Penguins’ streak was not always smooth sailing.
In 2010, they were upset by the Canadiens. Defenseman Hall Gill frustrated Evgeni Malkin, and Jaroslav Halak stopped everything.
There were the Fleury meltdowns in 2012 and 2013. The goalie broke under pressure and had to be replaced by Tomas Vokoun during the postseason in 2013.
There was a trio of blown 3-1 series leads, including the 2011 team without Crosby or Malkin that lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round One, the 2014 team that watched the New York Rangers rally behind Martin St. Louis, whose mother passed away during the series, and the 2022 team playing with a third goalie.
There were also a couple of sweeps starting with the frustrating 2013 Eastern Conference Final, in which the Penguins were squelched by the Boston Bruins, and the 2019 beatdown administered by the Islanders.
Of course, there were also the highest of highs: Three Stanley Cups. The Penguins equaled their contemporaries, the Chicago Blackhawks, who also won three in the era (2010, 2013, 2015).
The last two Cups were a surprise. In November 2015, the Penguins team was out of the playoff picture. Infighting and rampant rumors of unhappiness were pervasive. In December 2015, coach Mike Sullivan arrived.
So, too, did “Just play” discipline and speed.
The 2016 Penguins should be given much credit for the speed game, which changed the league. The team stormed to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup behind rookie goalie Matt Murray. Then the tired Pittsburgh Penguins soldiered to another in 2017.
The memories of the parades will live with the team and fans, especially the sweltering heat of the final parade in 2017. Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz chugging a beer in full stride is still a meme.
The Penguins’ playoff streak was the longest in North American pro sports and the 10th longest in NHL history.
Last summer, GM Ron Hextall re-signed Penguins stalwarts Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on the eve of free agency. The aging Penguins’ core was returned for another great run, which will not happen this season.
Before next season, Crosby will be 36, Malkin 37, and Letang will turn 36.
This season, the Penguins had one stretch of impressive hockey from early November through mid-December but were otherwise wildly inconsistent, too often flat, or played a mistake-filled game. The NHL’s oldest team only got older at the NHL trade deadline after the acquisitions of 34-year-old Nick Bonino, 32-year-old defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, and 31-year-old Mikael Granlund.
Granlund is signed for two more years with a $5 million AAV. He has five points (1-4-5) in 20 games with the Penguins.
The older Penguins and GM Ron Hextall now face the longest offseason since Crosby’s rookie year in 2005-06.