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Five reasons Penguins were eliminated from playoffs

by Wes Crosby

After earning a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the final day of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins' stay was cut short. Pittsburgh struggled in the final two weeks leading into its Eastern Conference First Round Series against the New York Rangers and carried a bulk of its issues into the postseason.

The Penguins did play competitively in their five playoff games, each decided by one goal.

With a few adjustments, Pittsburgh might have upset the Presidents' Trophy winners. Instead, the Penguins lost a second playoff series to the Rangers for the second straight season.

Here are five reasons the Penguins were eliminated:

1. Inconsistency -- The Penguins never played a full 60 minutes. Through the series' first three games, Pittsburgh played from behind after allowing New York to take an early lead. Each time, the Penguins crawled back to give themselves a chance to steal a victory, even winning Game 2 4-3 at Madison Square Garden to tie the series 1-1 heading back to Consol Energy Center.

Pittsburgh preached the importance of a quick start to Game 3. When that didn't happen, resulting in a 2-1 loss, the Penguins again preached the importance of a quick start to Game 4.

The Penguins had exactly the start they wanted in Game 4, dominating the first period while allowing two Rangers shots until about five minutes into the second. But a quick start was accompanied with a sluggish finish and a 2-1 overtime loss.

In Game 5, Pittsburgh went back to its original formula: getting behind, then storming back. The result was another 2-1 overtime loss that ended their season.

2. No spark -- Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury allowed two goals in four of his five starts. Pittsburgh lost each.

Fleury handed the Penguins a chance to upset the favored Rangers by having his second consecutive impressive playoff run. Pittsburgh simply did not have the firepower necessary to reward its goalie and handed him four hard-luck defeats.

On the other end, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was impressive, as expected. But a lack of shots and reliance on the Penguins top line resulted in several lengthy droughts when it seemed impossible for Pittsburgh to threaten breaching the New York net.

Forward Brandon Sutter showed up in Game 2, with a goal and an assist, but no other forward past the top line of Sidney Crosby centering Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz rose to the occasion.

3. Malkin not at full strength -- Speaking of forwards who did not contribute, Evgeni Malkin was at the top of that list. It's difficult to blame a player who said he was playing at 85-90 percent after returning from an undisclosed injury late in the regular season, but Pittsburgh needed more out of Malkin, who tied Crosby for the Penguins lead in regular-season goals with 28.

Malkin finished the playoffs without a point for the first time in eight trips. He had 11 shots in the five games; six of those came in Game 5.

After battling two injuries late in the season, it was commendable for Malkin to push through his ailments in an attempt to help the Penguins advance. But he wasn't able to generate the offensive potency he's known for, which left Pittsburgh with few scoring options past the top line.

4. Depleted blue line -- It's no secret the Penguins dealt with a few significant injuries throughout the season. Forward Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Olli Maatta were missed, but Pittsburgh had become accustomed to life without them.

The players who ultimately left the biggest hole in the playoffs were defensemen Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot. Without three of their top four defensemen, four of their top five if Maatta is included, the Penguins had to rely on American Hockey League call-ups Taylor Chorney and Brian Dumoulin, who formed a pairing used by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Pittsburgh missed its defensive leader Letang. It missed potentially its second best offensive defenseman Ehrhoff. And it missed its top rookie Pouliot.

5. Poor execution -- Even if the Penguins were playing well, they seemed to make one mistake that would dig them into what felt like an insurmountable hole.

In Game 3, Pittsburgh got behind early on a Carl Hagelin breakaway goal scored 8:43 into the first period. On the play, Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi was caught looking toward the Penguins bench near his own blue line, before skating off the ice with his arms outstretched. Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle hit Hagelin with a stretch pass that sprung him past Malkin and defenseman Ian Cole during a sloppy Pittsburgh line change.

That kind of error was commonplace throughout the series and led to a few Rangers goals that ultimately ended the Penguins' playoff run.

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