Lightning 1, Penguins 0: I’m Starting To Think Maybe This Isn’t The Penguins’ Year

I’m not right about a lot of things in life, whether it be sports predicting, relationships, or my constant screaming that all doctors are just failed shamans who lack the necessary magic powers, but here’s one paragraph I wrote two weeks ago explaining why I thought the Penguins would lose the Pittsburgh/Tampa series:

Right now, the Pens’ offense isn’t producing 5-on-5, their defense has been decent but certainly not playoff-tight shut-down style, they have no forward depth, their power play is terrible, and their penalty killing has been suspiciously leaky over the past month and will be without Matt Cooke for the Tampa series. The Lightning, by contrast, are completely healthy, boast tremendous depth up front, are in many ways just as playoff-tested as this Penguins group, they’re extremely well-coached (as are the Pens), and their power play likely poses a larger threat against the Pens’ penalty killing than the Penguins’ PP does against the Lightning killers. The Pens have home-ice advantage, and will likely pack the stands in Tampa, but as we saw last season and pretty much every season, home ice is meaningless.

Oh, of course THAT prediction comes true, but my prediction that Rico Fata would turn out to be the next Alfred Hitchcock just HAPPENED to be wrong. GO FIGURE. I can’t catch a break in this stupid universe.

Seriously though, I’ve spent the last three months annoyingly “ehhhhh….”-ing at every column about how resilient this Penguin team has been, pointing out that even during their impressive post-Crosby-and-Malkin run, the Pens were mostly beating bad teams, and Fleury’s career performance was masking some very serious talent issues that would quickly become unignorable against playoff competition. Tonight, bathed in the cold comfort of actually having been right about something, I ironically just keep coming back to one overwhelming sentiment: “Man, this Penguins team sure was resilient.”

The series outcome stings a little extra because the Penguins blew a 3-1 lead, but in retrospect, Fleury stealing Game One and the Lightning’s mediocre 5-on-5 effort in Games 3 and 4 created the illusion that the Pens were actually the better team here. Had the outcomes in the series occurred in a different order — if the two Tampa blowouts happened in the first four games, or if the Pens had gone down 3-1 before winning two one-goal nailbiters — then the reality of the series would’ve been more apparent, and that’s quite simply that Super Healthy Tampa is a much better team than Super Not Healthy Pittsburgh. The Pens’ effort, character, goaltending, coaching, and playoff experience — all of which are absolutely stellar — just didn’t give them any appreciable edge against a team that also has all of those things and is way, way more talented.

The Pens’ power play was indescribably awful the entire series — like, “Look for Koltsov on the backdoor!”-Era awful — and even with Crosby and Malkin out, they should’ve at least been able to go, I don’t know, let’s say…two for thirty-seven? Had the power play been even slightly better (not “good,” or even “average,” just somewhere above “Am I in a black hole? Cause that clock says it’s two minutes later and I’m positive I didn’t experience two minutes worth of reality” bad), they would’ve likely tipped the series and made off with the “One Series Win” that everyone predicted was this squad’s ultimate ceiling. Many other factors contributed to the Pens’ loss, as is always the case — their complete lack of finishing ability or offensive creativity, the defense sleeping through Saturday’s afternoon game, Fleury playing well but not superhumanly, series-stealingly well (an unreasonable expectation but one of the only ways the Pens were gonna take this series) — but no part of the Penguins’ game fell so inexplicably far below even the most modest expectations as their work with the man advantage. I am now done typing the words “power” and “play” until October. I’m chewing Nicorette too, to make sure it sticks.

There’s one silver lining to be had from this defeat, in addition to the easy-column-inspiring but wholly legitimate “Man this team is resilient” concept: At least the Pens lost in a nailbiter before they could get blown out by Washington. We’ll chalk this loss up as a merciful physician-assisted suicide for the sake of fan dignity.


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