Sam Kasan gives his three impressions from the Madison Square Garden press box.
1. Fleury Deserved Better
There is only one reason why the Pens had a fighting chance in this series in general, and this game in particular: Marc-Andre Fleury. He played phenomenally in all five games. When the team needed him most, he responded. Fleury came up with clutch save after clutch save. Without him, this series isn’t even close. Even when the Pens’ scoring dried up, Fleury kept them in every game. He deserved a better fate.
It’s pretty obvious that the Pens’ injuries just became too much for the team handle. Any team that loses three of their top four defensemen would be lucky to even make the postseason. Brian Dumoulin and Taylor Chorney filled in extremely well. But no offense to those two guys, neither of them is Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, or Olli Maatta. No one can do what those players can do. To the Pens’ credit, they did not make any excuses. But that doesn’t change the fact that missing their best blueliners was a major factor in losing the series. Pittsburgh lacked a puck-moving defenseman that would have helped immensely on their breakouts. Even having just Letang in the lineup could have made all the difference in this series.
3. Better Team Won
To sum up the series, the better team won. There’s a reason the Rangers finished with the best record in the National Hockey League. They’re an incredibly deep, strong, fast team. It would have been difficult for a healthy Pens team to compete with New York, let alone an injury-riddled squad. The Rangers deserve a lot of credit for winning the series. Though every game was close and it was only a couple of bounces that decided each contest, it was the Rangers that created those bounces in their favor. At the end of the day, New York won four of five games. At some point you just have to tip your hat to the other team and admit they are better. Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from at home in Pittsburgh.
1. While waiting for Sam to send me his three impressions from the road, I had more time than I usually do to reflect on what I had just watched. And my biggest takeaway from Game 5 is that the Pens truly did leave it all out on the ice – especially in the third period and overtime. And while I know there are no moral victories in the playoffs and the fact remains that Pittsburgh’s season is over, with their backs against the ropes they fought valiantly and put forth one heck of an effort to try and extend this series. They were especially impressive in the extra period, where I marveled at their controlled intensity and how the way they were holding onto the puck and executing. They just couldn’t make that one final play, and the Rangers did – which is the story of this matchup.
2. Tonight, just like most of the other games in this series, I kept hoping that a bounce would eventually go Pittsburgh’s way at a key moment. Because it felt like each of their previous three defeats, which were also all by 2-1 scores, had come down to them just not getting any breaks. And late in the second period, they finally got one. It was the definition of a garbage goal. Sidney Crosby stepped out from behind the goal line and threw the puck to the net, where it bounced off Henrik Lundqvist twice before flying into the arm of a crashing Nick Spaling and into the cage. It doesn’t get much uglier than that, but it was an absolutely gorgeous sight for the Pens and their fans. It evened the score at a crucial time and gave the Pens a lot of life.
3. Crosby’s line with Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist had an incredible shift in the opening minutes of the third – which cumulated with the captain drawing a penalty. As the man-advantage wound down, Evgeni Malkin found Crosby with a perfect pass. He went down on one knee to rip a one-timer and … CLANG. As the puck bounced out of harm’s way, it took with it the Pens’ chance to get a 2-1 lead. Special teams are big in every game, but they take on an added importance at this time of year – especially in tight, competitive matchups like these. And unfortunately for the Pens, they didn’t have the edge in that area tonight. While the Pens have been terrific shorthanded all series, they weren’t able to come up with a kill when the team needed it as the Rangers were able to score just 11 seconds into their first power play. And while the Pens again had tremendous puck movement and possession on their chances, they couldn’t convert when they desperately needed to. The Pens finished just 2-for-13 on the man-advantage, with both of those goals coming in their lone win. If the power play had been able to break through in any of those losses, this could have been a totally different series.