In a year in which they ultimately failed to successfully defend their Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins still managed to continue establishing who they are, what they’re all about and where they’re headed as a franchise.
Making the final eight would be celebrated in a lot of seasons in a lot of places.
In Pittsburgh the bar has been raised high enough that the 17,132 who witnessed the conclusion of this season, Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss to Montreal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, ultimately left feeling as disappointed as they were exhausted.
Much like the players they had cheered to the bitter end, and once more with gusto after that.
Game 7 inexplicably began as a 4-0 stunner a mere 25:14 in, but it turned into a 4-2 nail-biter by the time two periods had been completed. And as the Penguins took the ice for the third their 166th consecutive sellout crowd exploded yet again.
The Pens would begin the period with 1:50 of carry-over power-play at their disposal, including 1:00 of 4-on-3 time with which to slice the Canadiens’ once seemingly insurmountable lead to the slimmest of margins.
It never happened.
Still, it was a night on which the Penguins were as resilient as they were imperfect, and as determined as they were vulnerable.
In the end they won more faceoffs (56 percent to 44), managed more shots on goal (39-20) and registered more hits (32-14).
But in the end Jaroslav Halak and the Canadiens proved too much to overcome.
“I still think as bad as we started we still had our chances to get back in it,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t a lack of effort. It happens. Everything doesn’t always work out perfect and doesn’t always work out the way you want it to.
“But like I said, as bad as we started we very much believed we had a chance to win.”
In the end there was elimination, but also affirmation.
They got to their game yet again.
They just didn’t win four out of seven.
“I have faith in the way we played this series,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Were we at our best all the time? Did we have all of 20 guys going at their best? That’s a different story, but the way we played the game was evident in this game even (tonight) when we lost.
“For as much as I’ve known the game, either playing it or coaching it, playing in that offensive end 70 percent of the time is a very good formula. We did have a very good goaltender (with which to contend). We did see a team play stingy defense, and a credit to their guys and their goaltender. But I would like to keep playing this series the same way if they’d let us, and our guys would, too. We believed in that way right up until the end.”
Unfortunately, continuing isn’t an option.
The Pens will settle for picking up where they left off next season, despite ending a season without a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2007.
“We care deeply and want to win desperately,” Bylsma had said prior to Game 7.
They’ll care that much more and be that much more desperate next season at the CONSOL Energy Center, but their belief in themselves and their game won’t have changed.
Mike Prisuta is the sports director for WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh and the sports anchor for “Jim, Randy & the DVE Morning Show.”