The Pittsburgh Penguins’ season ended in Madison Square Garden Sunday night.
One of the most successful eras in franchise history almost certainly did, too.
The New York Rangers’ 4-3 overtime victory in Game 7 of their opening-round playoff series secured New York’s spot opposite Carolina in Round 2, and gave the Penguins their fifth consecutive series loss.
Artemi Panarin scored the series-winner at 4:46 of the extra period, beating Tristan Jarry with a wrist shot from just below the top of the right circle nine seconds before a holding minor called on Brock McGinn was to expire.
The defeat snapped the Penguins’ run of six consecutive Game 7 victories on the road.
The game likely marked the final time that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang will be teammates, because the latter two are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
Although both have shown interest in returning, it seems unlikely that the Penguins will have the salary-cap space needed to retain both.
What’s more, since the Penguins — who won Stanley Cups in 2009, 2016 and 2917 with Crosby, Malkin and Letang at the core of their roster — haven’t won a series since eliminating Philadelphia in the opening round in 2018, GM Ron Hextall might decide this offseason is the right time to overhaul his roster.
Simply tweaking it over the past five years hasn’t gotten the franchise close to its consistently stated objective of winning another Cup.
That’s an issue for management to address in coming weeks and months; for now, the Penguins must try to cope with the frustration of dropping a series in which they had a 3-1 lead in games and a 2-0 advantage on the scoreboard in the second period of Game 6.
Knowing that they also failed to protect a similar advantage against the Rangers en route to a second-round loss in 2014 will hardly salve their disappointment.
The Penguins actually had something close to a full lineup, as Rickard Rakell, Jarry and Crosby all returned to active duty after being sidelined by injuries.
The Penguins had a chance to take a 1-0 lead during an extended flurry in the New York zone about seven minutes into the first period, but Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin made a series of excellent stops, including one on McGinn from in front.
Play then moved to the other end, with the Rangers getting a two-on-one break and Chris Kreider beating Jarry from the right dot at 7:36 after taking a cross-ice feed from Mika Zibanejad.
The Penguins had a chance to pull even when Panarin was penalized for slashing at 11:05, but could not convert.
They nearly got a tying goal with 6 1/2 minutes to go before the first intermission, however, when Marcus Pettersson’s shot from the slot eluded Shesterkin but caromed off the left post.
The Penguins had yet another quality opportunity when Danton Heinen and Jeff Carter had a two-on-one break at 14:48, but Heinen’s shot from inside the left circle sailed over the net.
Heinen redeemed himself quickly, however, scoring during a power play at 18:51, after Jacob Trouba — remember him? — was assessed a double-minor for smacking Mike Matheson in the face with his stick and drawing blood.
The power play was typically lackluster until the second unit generated pressure that resulted in Heinen’s goal, which he scored from the right side of the crease. Play initially continued, but the goal was awarded after a video review by the NHL situation room.
Carter and Evan Rodrigues got the assists on Heinen’s goal, his third of the series.
The Penguins’ commitment was evident early in the second, when Jason Zucker and Crosby gave up their bodies to block shots. Both hobbled to the bench in obvious pain after doing so.
Those blocks sandwiched a solid penalty-kill that was highlighted by a superb glove save by Jarry on Adam Fox.
Those sacrifices were rewarded at 10:18, when Jake Guentzel made it 2-1 with a spectacular display of foot-hand-eye coordination.
With the Penguins on a power play, Guentzel kicked the puck into the air, then swatted into the net as Shesterkin was about to glove it for his eighth of the series.
The goal was confirmed after a lengthy video review; assists went to Bryan Rust and Crosby.
The Penguins’ lead lasted just 65 seconds, however, as a K’Andre Miller shot hit Matheson’s skate and skidded across the goal line behind Jarry.
Rodrigues, whose ill-conceived roughing minor in the second period revived the Rangers, restored the Penguins’ lead with a breathtaking effort at 17:24.
The Penguins were about to finish killing a cross-checking minor to Rust when Rodrigues intercepted a Filip Chytil pass inside their blue blue, then outraced Miller into the New York end before flipping a backhander past Shesterkin.
The puck entered the net as Rust’s minor was expiring.
It was Rodrigues’ third goal of the series. And possibly the most important of his career.
The Penguins had an opportunity to pad their lead when Artemi Panarin high-sticked Letang at 8:08 of the third, but the Rangers got the best chance during those two minutes, as Jarry was forced to stop a Tyler Motte breakaway.
The man-advantage ended prematurely when Carter was sent off for tripping at 9:28, and the Penguins made it through New York’s subsequent try with the extra man unscathed.
The Penguins fended off the Rangers’ bid to tie until 14:15, when Mika Zibanejad threw a high shot past Jarry from inside the right circle to force overtime.
And set the stage for Panarin to end the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season.