Kovacevic: For Penguins, a stubborn failure
BOSTON — Well, at least the Penguins did it their way.
Give 'em that much.
At least they showed the hockey world that their way was right. That all those changes and adjustments, all those strategic shifts and personnel switches, all that stuff was for losers.
Not for the mighty Penguins.
Not for the franchise that's now — say it with me — the NHL's four-time defending paper champion after getting swept out of the Eastern Conference final by slinking away silently to the Bruins, 1-0, Friday night at TD Garden.
Silently and stubbornly and stupidly, right to the end.
“It stinks that we're out,” as Jarome Iginla succinctly summarized it. “It definitely stinks.”
Let's not stop there: This was the worst playoff series in franchise history.
The most embarrassing.
The most ridiculous.
The most inexplicable.
Hey, we can revisit all the numbers, the two total goals — two! — on 139 shots over 253 minutes and 14 periods, plus the 55 missed shots, the 0-for-15 power play ... all that was disastrous enough.
But citing simple stats, even this grotesque, is letting this group off easy.
It doesn't sufficiently encompass all the talent wasted, all the investment from the money to the draft picks and prospects sent out, all the passion of hockey's most passionate American fan base.
And it doesn't do justice to the bullheadedness demonstrated by pretty much all concerned all through the series.
No, Game 4 did that just fine all by itself.
It started beforehand, when Dan Bylsma's do-or-die lineup move was to insert Tyler Kennedy in favor of Joe Vitale and … um, that was it. Presumably because the tide would be turned by a fourth-line shakeup.
His strategic response was even less ambitious, little more than the standard get-to-our-game fare. Sure, the Penguins tightened up and faceoffs improved over the final two games, but there were no surprises, no unusual formations on offense, defense or the breakout, nothing to cause Claude Julien to so much as break a sweat.
Nothing there, either, not so much as a single X to their O.
Ensuring that forwards go hard to the net?
What, and cause Tuukka Rask to spill his tequila?
To say it again: Bylsma's got questions to answer from Ray Shero, and the answers had better be good. For that matter, Shero's questions had better come without any preconceived notion of status quo.
But the coach isn't alone, and as much as he'll make a tidy target, don't pretend there wasn't more to it.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the consensus two best players in the world, combined for zero points in a full playoff series.
I can't believe I just typed that.
Stubbornly, those two tried again and again to stickhandle through a stout Boston defense designed to stop exactly that. And even the few times they pulled it off, none of Crosby's 13 shots or Malkin's 21 paid off.
“If you look back, the chances were there,” the captain said. “You try to fight, try to get rebounds. … We scored two goals all series, and I didn't score any points. It doesn't sit very well.”
“It's tough. I don't have confidence,” Malkin said. “You know, zero goals.”
James Neal knows, too. Only his zero point total was accompanied by an absurd 10 missed shots in the final two games, including five more glass-bangers in Game 4. No less stubborn than the rest, he wasn't content to force Rask to make actual saves. He had to pick at corners.
Small wonder he was testy afterward when someone asked what the Penguins should have done differently: “Yeah, obviously, we have to put it in the back of the net.”
Kris Letang, owner of 16 points through two rounds, disintegrated into a minus waiting to happen. Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Jarome Iginla … you can pretty much roll right through the roster … almost all vanished.
The Penguins' best skater at any position in this series was Paul Martin. Their best forwards were Craig Adams, Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow. And their best overall player, beyond debate, was Tomas Vokoun, who deserved so much better after earning the chance of a lifetime and being one of the few to make the most of it.
But with all due respect to those gentlemen, a whole lot went terribly awry for those to be their team's best in the series leading into the Stanley Cup final. Shero's got one murderous summer ahead of him to try to figure it out and react accordingly.
For now …
“When you don't reach your main goal, it's always a failure,” Letang said. “We had the opportunity. We had the group to do it.”
And that's sad.