PITTSBURGH -- A lack of offense for the third straight game Tuesday night led to the Pittsburgh Penguins being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs after having a 3-1 series lead for the second time in four years.
The Penguins finished their Eastern Conference Second Round series with the New York Rangers by scoring one goal in each of the final three games, culminating with a 2-1 loss in Game 7 at Consol Energy Center. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was the primary reason behind Pittsburgh's failure to capitalize on a lively crowd and a noticeable edge in puck possession through the first two periods.
"I knew we probably weren't going to score three or four on him," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "But I thought we threw a lot of rubber at him today. We had guys diving and getting their faces in the crease and trying to will it into the net. He was good.
"In these tight playoff games, it comes down to those types of things. One little play, one little inch, one save."
Pittsburgh controlled much of the first period, and nearly all of its final 13 minutes, but trailed 1-0 at the intermission. The Penguins carried that play into the middle period and seemed to catch a second breath with Jussi Jokinen's seventh goal of the postseason, but Brad Richards quickly restored the lead, seemingly nullifying Pittsburgh's momentum.
With the Penguins holding a 36-20 shot advantage, they controlled much of the game, but were consistently frustrated by New York's defensive scheme. The Rangers consistently kept Pittsburgh's shooters to the outside, allowing Lundqvist time and space to make relatively routine saves.
"Lundqvist stopped 35 shots tonight," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was very good. We had some good looks in the second period from [James Neal] and [Chris Kunitz] there at the front of the net that he came up big on. He came up big with several glove saves in the third period.
"It's the difference in the game. His 35 saves are the difference in the game, so tip your hat to him and how he played."
When Pittsburgh did test Lundqvist, he always seemed prepared. A puck slipped to Neal directly in front of the New York crease in the second period's final minutes. He snapped a quick shot on goal, but Lundqvist casually kicked off to the left and absorbed the puck in his chest.
It was reminiscent of several saves Lundqvist made in prior games, each ending with a Rangers win.
Pittsburgh did itself few favors when it had opportunities to pressure New York's defense. The Penguins' one power-play opportunity was cut short after Neal was called for holding 50 seconds later.
"It was just disappointing," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "Tonight was one of our better games. We worked hard. We put ourselves in this position."
Lundqvist's fifth straight victory in a seventh game and Pittsburgh's Game 7 frustrations at home (the Penguins fell to 2-7) continued. Pittsburgh hasn't won a Game 7 on home ice since May 18, 1995 against the Washington Capitals.
"We had home-ice advantage to win a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Neal said. "We didn't score at the big moments in big games. That falls onto us and our top players. We just didn't get it done. That's the bottom line.
"You're going to run into hot goalies in the playoffs. It's going to happen, no matter what. You have to find a way to get to him and get one by him. … Ultimately, we come up short and it's disappointing. We had a good team in here, a good attitude and were able to do good things."