It’s time for golfing. Time for baseball. Time for laying on the beach. Time for players to be reunited with loved ones who have missed so much of their lives the past seven months. Time to trade in hotel rooms and restaurants for the comfort of home.
The Penguins ended their season officially today, exiting the playoffs after six games against the Flyers. After a season full of highs and lows, surprises, and injuries, the Pens and their fans are left wondering answers to questions for which we will never have resolution. What if there was no six game losing streak? What if they had won just one more game in the regular season? What if Sidney Crosby had not exited the season in the first half after his return? What if Brent Johnson had made just a few more saves? What if Kris Letang had not lost so many weeks to concussion? What if Dan Byslma had not messed with the power play? What if Ray Shero had traded at the deadline for a bigger body?
Asking these questions will prove to be fruitless, for the answers matter not. We have only the future to look to. What will happen at the draft? What about free agency? Will administrative and coaching changes be made? Will James Neal ever wash his hair?
To summarize the playoffs, the better team won. Not because they were more talented. Not because they were the best team in the series. Not because the officials favored them. They won simply because they wanted it more and one cannot underestimate the power of determination and a thirst for glory.
Championships are not won by expecting that it belongs to you. They are not won by quitting before it is over. The disappointing part of the playoffs wasn’t that the Pens lost, but that they took so long to realize what those losses meant and why they lost. From the second period of Game 1, the Pens acted as though the win was in the bag and they gave up. It was visible. All were at fault…mostly. You win as a team and you lose as a team and it has never been more evident to those looking on that losses really do come at the hands of all parties involved.
You can blame Marc Andre Fleury for being a head case or Sidney Crosby for not playing a big enough role as a leader or Dan Bylsma for not making the proper adjustments necessary to defeat their opponents. When it comes down to it, it was a jointed effort at a loss. You cannot play two games with the heart of a champion and expect to come away with a ring on your finger and a trophy high above your head.
Today, the Flyers wanted it more. Off side calls, cheap goals and cheap shots aside, the Pens were lacking in confidence, stability and heart. The look on their faces in the second period as the camera panned the bench proved that they had one thought on their minds: This is over.
I would like to commend Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, and Eric Tangradi for their performances in the playoffs. The four of them exhibited no-quit attitudes and displayed leadership among their team when it was most necessary. This has not escaped the attention of many and it should be brought to everyone’s attention who missed it. Additionally, Brian Strait and Simon Despres proved themselves as worthy of the NHL roster in do or die situations.
I will also give props to Claude Giroux and the Flyers rookies. Giroux played out of his mind hockey and the rookies did not look so new on the ice during their first playoff experience.
The season did bring fantastic memories though. The game Sidney Crosby returned in November. James Neal having a break out season. Evgeni Malkin playing once more like the MVP we all know he is. Matt Cooke taking the world on his shoulders and proving to everyone what we in Pittsburgh already knew- he has what it takes to contribute to the sport, his team and his community. One of the greatest players in history was forever memorialized at his best. Win streaks, point streaks, career highs and teams lows, this season was one for the books.
The most important lesson this team walked away with was that they are The Penguins and for a time in this season, the identity was theirs and it was owned. But at some point they lost that sense of unity and it cost them.
Whatever this off season brings, they need to come back together with a new attitude and united once more.
Thank you all for taking this journey with me this season. I plan to continue blogging about the playoffs and will also turn to baseball. This summer I will cover the draft, free agency, Player Development Camp and then in the fall it is back on full out hockey style.
Good luck to the Flyers and the rest of the teams as they chase Lord Stanley. May the team who desires it most win.