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Takeaways from Pittsburgh's 2021-22 Season-Ending Media Availability

by Grace Heidinger

Despite their first-round exit from the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins felt that they played some good hockey during their seven-game series against the New York Rangers. But after going up 3-1, the Penguins couldn't hold onto leads in each of the following three elimination games, with the Rangers battling back to earn an overtime win in Game 7 and put an end to Pittsburgh's postseason run.

"I didn't expect to be talking to you guys today, that's for sure, especially the way we played," defenseman Kris Letang said during the team's end-of-season media availability on Tuesday at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. "I'm pretty confident with that group. Sometimes it doesn't go your way, and you have to turn the page and start again. But it's a special group. It's a group that can win anything."

The majority of the team spoke this afternoon before going their separate ways for the summer. Here are the biggest takeaways from each interview:

 

SIDNEY CROSBY

When evaluating everything at the end of a season, one can look at the team as a whole, but individual performances as well. When looking at the Penguins lineup, Crosby acknowledged his teammates who had career years regardless of their age or where they're at in their career, like Letang, Mike Matheson, Chad Ruhwedel and Danton Heinen.

"I think that says a lot about them," Crosby said. "It says a lot about our group and that's what you want, so that was why we had success. We had so many guys out and different guys stepped up. I think that's why we really believed that we were going to be playing longer, because of our ability to be able to do that all year. I think we've done a good job of having guys come in and step up and do well."  

Video: Crosby speaks with the media

 

EVGENI MALKIN & KRIS LETANG

Both Malkin and Letang signed team-friendly eight-year contracts in the summer of 2013 before reaching free agency. Now, Malkin and Letang are in unfamiliar territory when it comes to their current situations.

"I've always signed extensions in the past, so it's not something where I know what to expect," Letang said. "It's always been the main goal, to stay here and play in Pittsburgh. … I certainly tried to help build something good here, and obviously want to keep it going."

"Pittsburgh, it's my second hometown," Malkin said. "I'm here 16 years, it's amazing. It's hard to understand what's going on right now because we just lost a couple days ago. It's still painful. But I hope we find a way to all be happy. If you play like 20 years for one club, it's amazing. It's a business, but I'm ready both ways. If I stay, I will be so much happier."

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 Video: Malkin speaks with the media

Video: Letang speaks with the media

 

BRYAN RUST

It's been amazing to watch Rust grow and develop as a player and a person on and off the ice since being drafted by the Penguins in 2010. The two-time Stanley Cup champion has become a legit top-six winger in the league, coming off year where he eclipsed the 20-goal plateau for a third-straight year while recording a career-high 58 points, while also becoming a husband and a father. Pittsburgh is a special place to Rust and his family, and he hopes to return after finishing the final year of his five-year contract.

"There haven't been real amplified talks yet, but we'll see where that goes here in the coming weeks," Rust said. "Now that it's not just me and my wife, we have a child now, I think that's No. 1 for me. Where we feel comfortable and where we're happy is going to be where we're going to want to be. We obviously do really love it here."

Full story to come.

 Video: Rust speaks with the media

 

RICKARD RAKELL

After suffering an upper-body injury on a high hit in the first period of Game 1 against the New York Rangers, it was tough for the trade deadline acquisition from Anaheim to be missing the opportunity to be back in the postseason until he returned to the lineup for Game 7. Given the intensity surrounding the playoffs, he was eager to get back playing and helping his team. And while he knows there are a lot of other impending free agents in the locker room, Pittsburgh is a team and city Rakell would like to come back to.

"It was a great experience for me," the 29-year-old winger said. "I've learned a lot from a lot of great players and coaches here. I feel like this team had a lot of potential. This is definitely a place I'd like to come back to and where I think I can take my game to the next level, as well."

Video: Rakell speaks to the media 

 

EVAN RODRIGUES

Coming into this season, Rodrigues knew there would be an opportunity for him early on with the injuries Pittsburgh had. Belief and confidence allowed the versatile forward to find success this year, as he felt comfortable calling for the puck when hopping over the boards to make plays, and ended up scoring a career-high 19 goals.

"The players inside that locker room are the best bunch of guys that I've ever played with," said the 28-year-old forward, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent. "It's a great place. Great place for me and my family. My kids love it here. It's a great spot in there. There hasn't been anything (contract talk) to my knowledge yet, but we'll see where the summer takes us."

 Video: Evan Rodrigues speaks to the media

 

JEFF CARTER

After two years of shortened seasons, this one felt a lot different for Carter. While there were times throughout the second half where it caught up to the 37-year-old veteran, the coaches and strength staff helped Carter be in a position to feel good through the postseason. And when reflecting on the First Round loss, there were some positives to take out of the good hockey the team played and the battle they fought.

"I think it was an interesting year as a team with injuries and COVID and all that stuff," Carter said. "This team never batted an eye, we just kept going at it no matter who we had. I think this is probably one of the hardest-working teams I've ever been around. Doesn't matter who's in and who's out there, guys go at it and they bring it every night."

Video: Carter speaks with the media 

 

DANTON HEINEN

Following an uncertain offseason in 2021, Heinen feels that he is in a better place heading into the upcoming summer after tallying a career-high 18 goals during the regular season. Gaining confidence back from a production standpoint was a big step for the 26-year-old winger, who was on a one-year contract with Pittsburgh.

"I think you're just always looking for what's best for you going forward," Heinen said. "I think that's what you always try to do. I love it here. So, we'll see what happens, but it's business and I don't worry about it too much."

 Video: Heinen speaks with the media

 

CHAD RUHWEDEL

Ruhwedel's goal after last year ended was to try to be a regular in the lineup every night, and that came to fruition this season. That consistency helped iron out wrinkles in his game and helped him contribute offensively, too. At the end of the day, Ruhwedel's main focus is always being sound and steady on the defensive side of the puck, which he looks to bring again next year. 

"I've stuck here for the last six years, and it's been a good fit," Ruhwedel said. "Having a full season, being in the lineup, contributing every night - it's been great for the confidence and just the mental side of this sport. So overall, very happy that it went the way it did this year."

 Video: Ruhwedel speaks with the media

 

BROCK MCGINN

A tough break and bounce is how McGinn described his holding penalty that led to New York's series-clinching goal on the ensuing power play, and acknowledged it's something that he'll have to live with. But reflecting in more of a big-picture sense on his performance in the regular season, he felt that he came in with a good start and then faltered a little bit toward the end, which is a good lesson heading into Year 2 of his three-year contract.

"I think the way you look at it, we had a lot of injuries and stuff like that," McGinn said. "But I think everybody in that lineup, whoever it was, we came out and worked hard every single day. At the end of the day, it's a tough way to lose and I think it'll just make everybody hungrier next year.

Video: McGinn speaks with the media 

 

JASON ZUCKER

Nobody is 100% healthy in the playoffs, with everybody battling through bumps, bruises and oftentimes more significant injuries. While Zucker didn't get into the specifics of what he was dealing with, it was one thing after the next when it came to battling this injury throughout the season. But he was determined to get back on the ice with his team, even if it took sitting in a high-top chair next to the bench during the playoffs to stay comfortable and stay in the game.

"We truly were grinding every day trying to stay healthy," Zucker said. "For this summer, I'm not going to change anything. I felt ready and prepared coming into training camp. This injury happened later on, and was something that we just kept fighting through for the season. As far as the offseason training, I'll have to rehab and do some of that stuff. But as far as the actual training goes, a lot of it will end up staying the same."

 Video: Zucker speaks with the media

 

KASPERI KAPANEN

Looking ahead to next season, the 25-year-old winger hopes to rediscover his confidence and swagger. He didn't produce as much as he wanted to this year, which hurt more from a team perspective than an individual one, as Kapanen wanted to be doing more to help this group win.

"I've never felt better on any team in my life before than here," Kapanen said. "It's an absolute privilege to play with these guys and see them every day. I don't have family here too often and seeing these guys every day, they're basically my brothers. I'm just lucky to be part of this team."

 Video: Kapanen speaks with the media

 

MARCUS PETTERSSON

The defenseman was asked about the sequence in Game 7 which led to Mika Zibanejad's tying goal, which started when Alexis Lafreniere knocked off Pettersson's helmet. He had to head to the bench per the NHL rule, as players cannot keep playing without their helmet. From there, coverage broke down, and what Tristan Jarry deemed a 'nothing play' ended up being the difference in the game.

"I can't say if it was intentional or not," Pettersson said. "He was falling. In the heat of the moment, I probably could have put it on again. But in the heat of the moment I tried to get to the bench and get a change. I think it was an unfortunate play."

But aside from this play, Pettersson produced strong offensive shifts and plays towards the end of the regular season which carried into the postseason, too.

"I think I'm able to make those plays," Pettersson said. "I think the next step for me is kind of having the confidence to do that stuff. I think I found a good balance where I can make offensive plays, but I don't have to chase them if they're not there. So, take what is given and make those plays when they're there."

Video: Pettersson speaks with the media 

 

CASEY DESMITH

DeSmith had been dealing with a groin issue for about a month and a half before he made a movement in Game 1 when felt his whole hip and groin go all at once. Given the nature of double overtime and fatigue, it was an easy decision for the goaltender to pull himself out of the game, considering he couldn't move or go down. He underwent core muscle repair surgery on the right side after having the same procedure on his left side last season. The netminder is looking forward to getting back to being healthy and not having to deal with these injuries anymore.

"Going in there after the Game 1 win and seeing how happy everyone was, and especially Louis (Domingue) being able to come in there and do what he did in Game 1, definitely made the injury for me hurt a lot less," DeSmith said. "The fact that we pulled that game out, it was fun watching Louis do his thing out there. It's a tough situation, obviously, not playing a whole lot of games this season in the NHL, and then going in in the playoffs and performing pretty well. I thought he did an admirable job."

 Video: DeSmith speaks with the media

 

JOHN MARINO

While Pittsburgh didn't get the outcome in Round 1 that they were hoping for, Marino thought they put themselves in a good position. But ultimately, it didn't go their way. There are always high expectations on this team, and players look to improve their individual games in the offseason to live up to those expectations. For Marino, he's looking to work on his offensive game, and hopes to put on some extra pounds during the offseason.

"The whole team was kind of on the same page in playoffs," Marino said. "We kind of went through stretches where we weren't during the season, and when everyone's on the same page here in the playoffs, just makes the game a lot easier."

 Video: Marino speaks with the media

 

BRIAN DUMOULIN

Dumoulin injured his MCL and had a Grade 3 tear after sliding into the net during Frank Vatrano's disallowed goal in Game 1, where his knee hyperextended when it hit the goalpost. The defenseman gutted it out through triple overtime before getting sidelined for the remainder of the series with the injury. It was difficult for Dumoulin to watch the postseason games from the press box and have no control in them, but said what he can control is doing his part when it comes to the expectations of the team.

"Our expectation is to win every year and make playoffs and have a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup," Dumoulin said. "Regardless of who's here, who's not, who's in our lineup on any given night, we expect to win. That's my mindset obviously this offseason, and it's my mindset every year. I want to be on a team that wins."

Video: Dumoulin speaks with the media

 

MIKE MATHESON

With elimination still fresh in his mind, it's hard for Matheson to think of his own personal season after what the team went through up until Game 7. When looking at numbers, this was the best year of the defensemen's career, and aside from that, he was happy with the way he played overall. Matheson feels that he made good strides with his game in a lot of areas, and with a lot of areas to continue to improve on, he's excited for the future.

"I think if you really do go back and look at that series and the whole season as well, we didn't play a single game this year with a whole healthy lineup with everybody available," Matheson said. "That was difficult in the sense that we never got to see our full team. But having said that, I think we did a good job of fighting through that, whether it was during the season or in the playoffs when guys weren't available. A lot of people stepped up and played in different roles that they weren't used to and did a great job of that. So, to come away losing in overtime in Game 7 is a tough pill to swallow. That's the way it goes sometimes, and you just got to use it as motivation going into the next season."

Video: Matheson speaks with the media

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