Supreme victory has eluded the Pittsburgh Penguins once again. Despite having arguably the best offense in the league, the Penguins still managed to choke away a chance at returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since they won it all in 2009. Between Sidney Crosby’s unusual inadequacies in the conference final series against the Boston Bruins and the inconsistencies at the goalie position, the Penguins hard-nosed offensively driven mentality regressed to an ineffective shell of its former self.
To be fair, the Penguins have never been known for their defensive prowess. However, they weren’t necessarily pushovers in this category either as they were 12th in the league in goals allowed. Rather, the ultimate Achilles heel of this franchise was their ineptitude at stopping power play opportunities. While this would seem to be the obvious crux of why the Penguins lost in the conference finals against the Bruins it doesn’t exonerate them of being swept. While their power play defense wasn’t great (25th in the NHL) the Boston Bruins weren’t exactly proficient at taking advantage of power play opportunities themselves (26th in the NHL).
Simply put, the Penguins are a team that is predicated on having a high-octane offense that can overshadow a shoddy defense that can make critical mistakes at any moment. Even in the Penguins first series against the New York Islanders, they were still able to dominate the series even when their opponent was able to put up three or more goals. Before they went up against the Bruins, the Penguins never scored less than four goals in wins or losses (the only exception was the Penguins single loss in the conference semi finals against the Ottawa Senators 2-1).
Yet, when the Penguins took on the Bruins, they crumbled into a mediocre squad that could barely manage a single goal per game. While the Penguins failures could be attributed to an oppressive Bruins defense, it doesn’t explain why this unmitigated collapse didn’t happen sooner at the hands of the Ottawa Senators, which actually had a better defense than the Bruins (2nd in goals against and 1st in penalty kill percentage as opposed to the Bruins being ranked 3rd and 4th in these categories).
Although the Bruins had a superior offense over the Senators this wasn’t the case with New York Islanders who were ranked 7th in goals per game. Ultimately, while the Bruins weren’t necessarily the superior team offensively or defensively when compared to the Senators or the Islanders in those categories individually, they were definitely the most balanced team the Penguins had faced throughout the playoffs. On top of that, the Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask stepped up his game tremendously averaging 94.3% in goals saved in the post season as opposed to saving 92.9% of shots taken against him in the regular season. Given how magnificent the defense was in every facet of the game combined with how well the offense performed, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Penguins ultimately lost the series. Still, it comes as a shock that the Penguins couldn’t manage to garner a single win on their home ice while only managing two goals throughout the entire series. Even with the Bruins defense playing at a championship level, a proven and highly talented offense like the Penguins shouldn’t have been stifled and annihilated in this fashion especially when you have one of the best shooters in the game in Sidney Crosby.
However, the Bruins still deserve credit for pulling off a sweep of this magnitude. They came out with more tenacity, vigor and a better game plan for how to win one game at a time. They didn’t just let the defense do all the talking as their offense also stepped up in an impressive way by out shooting and out scoring a team that was known for the tactics that the Bruins were using against them.
Even with this embarrassing demise at the hands of an opponent the Penguins could have beaten, this in no way condemns the Penguins as being an incompetent hockey team. More likely than not, the Penguins will be back next season hungrier than ever to prove that they can pick up where they left off and work out the debilitating kinks that did them in this year. Until that time comes however, the Penguins will have to except the fact that their dominant post season run came to an anti-climatic end that was not only embarrassing, but also simply inexcusable.