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Inside Scoop: Locker Cleanout Day

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Thoughts, musings and observations from the Penguins' locker cleanout day...

* After the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs in Game 6 of the Second Round against the Washington Capitals on Monday, there weren't many outward displays of emotion. Guys were upset, but they weren't sitting in their stalls crying; they were sitting in their stalls mostly just shell-shocked, feeling more empty than anything else. A couple of days later, the disappointment still lingers and probably will for a while.

"I don't think it sets in completely yet," Sidney Crosby said. "It's something we haven't felt for a while. Doesn't make it any easier, I can tell you that. You want to be playing still, but you have to evaluate everything, turn the page at some point and get ready for next year."

* I think it's really going to hit the Pens when another team starts celebrating with the Stanley Cup, which first came into their possession on June 12, 2016. It's the best trophy in sports and they lifted it over their heads, drank out of it, took it around the world and got to do whatever they wanted with it for two straight summers. It's definitely going to sting when they see other players doing that for the first time in a long time.

"I'm going to get so jealous for the guys who are going to raise the Cup this year," Patric Hornqvist admitted. "You just want to do it again and that's why we're all working so hard every single day trying to get better and that's what's fun with sports."

* Going off that, the Pens had mixed reactions when it came to whether they would watch the remainder of the playoffs. Bryan Rust said he probably wouldn't be able to help himself; Matt Murray said he might watch them here and there if he has time; while Crosby admitted he probably wouldn't. Though he did say he'll be pulling for all of his former teammates, including Marc-Andre Fleury.

"I tend to not watch too much of the playoffs, to be honest," Crosby said. "It's pretty hard when you're watching for your mind to not to creep back into this mode of being in it."

* We've talked so much about the amount of hockey the Pens have played over the last two-plus years. The Pens have played 306 total games since the 2015-16 season opened, with Game 6 marking Pittsburgh's 61st playoff contest over that span.

But when asked if that had caught up to them physically, the players refused to use that as an excuse. Hornqvist said it might have affected them in the first half of the season when they struggled somewhat, but said everybody felt good after Christmas.

"I felt fine. I'm sure other guys felt fine," Justin Schultz said. "We felt we could have done it. We just ran into a pretty good team and couldn't get the job done."

* As Sullivan always says, it's hard to win in this league and there's such a fine line between winning and losing. That was reinforced for the Penguins in this series, which they reiterated today. They've been replaying the series in their minds and for them, it comes down to a few key plays being the difference. They're especially upset about losing Game 5 in Washington, with Schultz calling that a game "we should've had," and Kris Letang saying he can't stop thinking about the mistake he made at the end that cost it for them.

"We didn't play our best but I still think we were in every game," Hornqvist said. "They win (Game 4) really late there and (Alex) Ovechkin scored. And then in Game 5 there in Washington, (Brian Dumoulin) has a chance there to win it for us and then they come back and score and they won in overtime (in Game 6). But that's hockey. Give them a lot of credit for the last game they played. They played really hard and smart defensively and without (Nicklas) Backstrom, that's not easy. They beat us in six games, what can you say."

* For the first time in two years, the Penguins weren't on the right side of those key situations. It certainly gave Crosby an even greater appreciation of just how special their back-to-back Stanley Cup championship runs were.

"You do appreciate just how difficult it was," he said. "It's easy to say that when you've won and it's fresh in your mind, but to look back even at this series and see the different turning points and how many times it could've went either way, all those factors. To know that all those factors were still there the past two years and how easily things could've changed and how lucky we are; it definitely allows you to appreciate how difficult that was. Also to know that we were still that close to moving on, that's the difficult part, it definitely gives you a greater appreciation for how many times it could've went the other way on a pretty good run."

* Before he took questions, Pens general manager Jim Rutherford also made sure to give the Caps a lot of credit.

"I'd like to publicly congratulate the Washington Capitals," he said. "They played a heck of a series. It was two good teams. They come out on top. They got timely saves and timely goals. My hat's off to them."

* Jake Guentzel had his second straight incredible postseason, becoming just the second player in NHL history to score 10 or more goals in each of his first two playoff appearances. The other: Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who did so in his first three appearances in 1989, '91 and '92.

"Whenever you can get introduced in that category it's pretty special just because you see what he's done over his career and what he meant to the organization and the league," Guentzel said. "So definitely a cool moment for me."

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