Game 5 Post-Game: A monumental departure
The Penguins played a hockey game Saturday afternoon. They also played a game of Whack-A-Mole, smacking down just about every problem that has cropped up for them in recent playoff appearances.
-Can’t beat the Rangers in the post season: WHACK!
-Can’t close out a team when they have them down in a series: WHACK!
-Don’t play well in the afternoon: WHACK!
-Can’t clinch a series on Consol Energy Center home ice: WHACK!
-Can’t get pucks past Henrik Lundqvist: WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
The 6-3 final on the jumbotron in game five was misleading though.
It wasn’t even that close.
That was such a series deciding blow out, I was waiting for Jim Paek to score.
It was a monumental departure from what we have seen since the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup in 2009 when it comes to finishing off a series. For a change the Penguins refused to let a team off the mat. For a change, these Penguins gave the opponent no hint of a life.
They certainly did at Montreal in Game 6 of the 2010 conference semifinals when they blew a second period lead and allowed the Canadiens to come back and eventually win the game and the series.
They certainly did in 2011 when Tampa skated into Consol and smoked Pittsburgh 8-2 while facing elimination in game five. And it happened again in 2014 against these Rangers when the Pens gave up two early goals along the way to a 5-1 collapse in game five (again at home) and the series.
All of these bad memories were brought up to Pittsburgh players and coaches in advance of Saturday’s potentially decisive game. They said everything you would expect. “The past doesn’t apply…New team…Different year…etc.”
But we had heard all that before. In the Crosby/Malkin era the Penguins had an 11-13 record when in position to eliminate a team (4-&-9 since 2010). So clearly, it’s one thing to say it. It’s quite another to actually get the job done.
This 2016 team did just that though.
“We know they are a good team. They’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve got a lot of depth. We didn’t want to give them any momentum to go back home. So it was nice to close it out here,” said Sidney Crosby.
And credit new coach Mike Sullivan for not being afraid to address the elephant in the room. None of these playoff mountains were of his creation. But while Sullivan may have downplayed the shadow they cast over game five when asked about them by the media Friday, he didn’t duck the topic while addressing his players before the game.
“When you have teams at that elimination point you want to take care of business right then and there. We did speak about that with our group,” disclosed Sullivan during his postgame press conference. “When other teams are faced with an elimination game there is a heightened sense of urgency and a heightened intensity. And we were going to have to match that. It’s that killer instinct. It’s a certain mindset that you have to go into the game with so that you control what you can and don’t put your team in a vulnerable circumstance if we had to go back to New York. So without a doubt we wanted to do it when we could and win this game today.”
Young impact players on this team such as Bryant Rust, Matt Murray, and Conor Sheary haven’t been part of blowing series leads or losing to the Rangers over each of the last two seasons. And neither admitted to any type of pep talk from the veterans in that regard. But there was a tangible sense of urgency picked up in the locker room before puck drop.
“I don’t think it was anything specific. They just knew that we had to have the whole team ready to play,” said Sheary. “And the veterans portrayed the importance of that to us young guys to not let them get back in this.”
Meanwhile in Washington, the Capitals have failed to make quick work of an opponent who appeared to be beaten. Washington has allowed the Flyers to win twice while facing elimination. If the Caps finally do dispatch Philadelphia in game six or seven, then the skate will be on the other foot. It’ll be the Caps playing the role of a team trying to overcome playoff hurdles and ghosts of years gone by against a familiar opponent.
And in that case the Penguins will be hoping history repeats itself, instead of getting whacked down in the manner it did on Saturday.