NEW YORK — Sidney Crosby, Rickard Rakell, and Tristan Jarry skated from the Pittsburgh Penguins tunnel to play in Game 7. More than a hockey game was at stake. Legacies and futures hung in the balance. Three straight playoff series losses, blowing a 3-1 series lead, and expiring contracts loomed.
It had every ingredient for a Hollywood ending but was instead a Greek tragedy. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Game 7 to the New York Rangers 4-3 in OT.
Let talk of “the end” begin. Let the discussion begin about moving on from core players who have anchored the team since George W. Bush’s second term. Fling open the floodgates of speculation and debate.
It has to end, doesn’t it?
The Penguins blew three straight leads. They had the series within their grasp in three straight games.
That’s four straight opening playoff series losses dating back to 2019. The Penguins have just six playoff wins in four years. Teams with that lack of success don’t get to call their shot.
“It’s a possibility. I think we knew that coming into the playoffs. But I think you try not to really think about that,” Crosby said. “You hope that we make a good run, and it’s something in the back of your mind. It’s something that we knew was a possibility…”
Of course, NHL officials will be scrutinized after a terribly blown call late in regulation which gifted the Rangers the tying goal. The Penguins controlled the third period until the NHL helmet rule bit them.
“It stinks…but that’s the rule,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
In full disclosure, if officials called the blatant penalty, the play would have been over. The Penguins would have had a power play with under six minutes remaining. Instead, the Rangers had the advantage.
That’s a bad beat.
“I think this one probably feels like we deserve better,” Crosby said.
Crosby, Jarry, and Rakell may not be 100% healthy, but they lifted the Penguins. Jarry’s ankle was heavily wrapped and iced after the game. See the video here (ankle closeup at the end). The series was in their hand for the third time in three games. They fired 43 shots on Igor Shesterkin in regulation. They yielded only 27.
The Penguins got two power-play goals. A shorthanded goal. A stellar performance from Jarry. A standout performance from Crosby. And yet, the silly season will begin instead of packing for Carolina.
Despite their third lead in three games, they lost. Again.
Less than six minutes left in Game 7. The Penguins had the lead. The series was again in their hand. Sure, it was a bad beat for Marcus Pettersson’s helmet to get knocked off and the Penguins’ structure to break down, leading to a wicked one-timer by Mika Zbinejad late in the third.
It was not a bad beat for the New York power play to toy with the Penguins PK like a cat does with a ball of yarn.
The storm clouds let loose as Artemi Panarin blasted another New York power-play goal.
Turn and face the change.
(We’re doing a free report card at the end of the season)
Pittsburgh Penguins Chalkboard
The Rangers’ defensemen are good when they’re unchallenged. In the first and third periods, the Penguins played tight to the defensemen with small gaps. That created turnovers and transitions for the Penguins.
In the second period, the Penguins again ceded the top of the zone, allowing New York to keep possession with a low to high game. Crosby lamented not getting the extra goal–the second period would have been the ideal time.
New York defensemen are also good at shrinking the top of the zone and taking more real estate.
However, the Penguins were exceptional on Sunday night at a few things. Notably, they controlled the low zone, again. The Penguins won more wall battles, got to the net, and forced New York to turn and defend.
It looked like the Penguins’ game. It should have been. In the third period, they limited New York to long-range shots. Perhaps they were a little conservative, but they created more traffic in the neutral zone and slot than the Holland Tunnels on Friday afternoon.
The Penguins’ layers were largely intact in the first and third periods. They were hanging on the second, but once they settled, the Penguins typically had two forecheckers and also two forwards in the neutral zone.
It worked to perfection until…
Pittsburgh Penguins Game 7 Report Card:
Tristan Jarry: A+
I’m reminded of former Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella praising defenseman Zach Werenski who played despite getting hit in the face with a puck, then playing with a swelled-shut eye in April 2017.
“Balls as big as the building,” Tortorella said. Look at our video of Jarry hobbling out of the press conference. Impressive. He played well, too.
“I thought he had a hell of a game,” Sullivan said of Jarry.
Invisible. Malkin let Crosby do the hard work. The Penguins needed Game 6 Malkin but got the deferential Malkin. The Malkin line allowed zero shot attempts. Zero. That’s incredible, but the line wasn’t much of a factor offensively.
Rickard Rakell: A
I really liked Rakell’s peskiness on Sunday. He seemed to be in the Rangers lanes. He intercepted or disrupted countless breakouts and passes. Rakell didn’t get a goal–his line didn’t get a lot of high-danger chances, but they also squashed the Rangers. The advanced stats were lopsided.
Mike Matheson: B
Matheson took some heat on social media because one Rangers’ goal hit his skate and went in–the third such goal of the series. I’m undecided how much responsibility Matheson should carry for that. It’s largely bad luck.
Otherwise, I thought he played very well and bailed out Letang on several occasions. The Rangers swarmed Letang looking for turnovers, but Matheson was a good counterbalance. He skated the puck into the offensive zone and didn’t yield chances behind him.
He played with urgency.
Evan Rodrigues: A
How many great chances did the fourth line create? How many o-zone possessions did they create? It seemed like a lot.
Rodrigues led all players with six shots in regulation.
Rodrigues’ shorthanded goal–a one-handed backhand was pretty fantastic. He had a strong playoff series.
“E-Rod” probably earned himself a few extra dollars with his performance in the series. Bad penalty notwithstanding.
Bryan Rust: D
Rust looked angry, frustrated, and off his game. He missed a few pucks at the wrong times and didn’t produce like he generally does.
I have no idea (and we have don’t access to all of the players during COVID media rules), but it looked like he was raw about something. The potential of his last game? He just didn’t look right, and this is a guy who fills the net in elimination games.
They ceded the top of the zone, creating space everywhere else as they chased the Rangers’ power play. It was inexplicable that more adjustments weren’t made. They chased all series.
They again dominated the puck and possession. They had far more chances and shots. The Pittsburgh Penguins looked strong. They were a good bounce away from breaking open that game.