Sunday, October 2, 2022

the end of an era? Penguins at crossroads after playoff exit

PITTSBURGH ( Associated Press) — For the better part of two decades, Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Chris Letung have served as the foundation upon which the Pittsburgh Penguins built three Stanley Cup champions.

For the better part of a year, the trio understood that the 2021-22 season could be their last ride together.

And for the better part of a month, Crosby did his best to stop it. He can’t do it anymore. No one else can. Not after a playoff loss to the New York Rangers, a 3-1 series lead ended with the Penguins on the wrong end of the line joining hands at a raucous Madison Square Garden after the Rangers made one surprise comeback. happened.

The last was a 4–3 overtime win in Game 7 that has helped define Crosby, Malkin and Letang during Pittsburgh’s fourth straight run of the year.

“They’re all different,” said Crosby, who missed all of Game 5 and Game 6 after being hit in the head by New York’s Jacob Trouba. “It’s hard to go through them all. I think if we had to group them all, I think this one, I probably feel like we’re worthy if I were to classify them all.”

Crosby is well aware that this may be the last time Malkin and Letang are among those wearing penguin sweaters. Both are free agents this summer, as is forward Brian Rust, whose dynamic game helped the Penguins win consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. Keeping all three can be very expensive.

“I think we knew the playoffs were coming,” Crosby said. “But I guess you really try not to think about it. You expect us to do well.”

In a way he did. Pittsburgh led six of the seven games during the series, including a two-goal advantage in both Game 5 and Game 6, and a one-goal lead with less than six minutes to go into regulation in the finale.

“It’s disappointing,” penguins forward Jake Guenzel, who scored eight goals during the series. “That’s where we were. We put ourselves in a good place to go 3-1 up.

New York’s consistent ability to pounce on penguin miscues helped. The last of them, the trade of Denton Henen and the ensuing penalty that gave Rangers a power play in overtime, set up a sequence that eventually ended with Artemi Panarin winning.

In a way, this series was the epitome of wildly uneven weather. A gritty start in which players like Ivan Rodrigues played brilliantly, while Crosby and Malkin (among others) recovered from injuries. Then a two-month stretch where they were arguably the best team in the league, followed by a lame finish that included three mostly no-loss losses to Rangers.

It’s one of the reasons New York entered the series as a prohibitive favorite. While Crosby insisted that his team couldn’t just flip a switch and move on, that’s exactly what the Penguins did in taking three out of four to start the series.

And then all of a sudden, the lead, pace and a promising postseason vanished in hockey equal to the New York minute. An off-season of potential seismic business looms.

Crosby said, “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far, let alone get to the playoffs. We had high hopes. We fought a lot. And a lot of people contributed. I think That’s all the reason we thought we’d still be playing.”

busy summer

The chances of Malkin and Letang returning are reduced to money. Malkin turned 36 in July. Letang turned 35 a month ago. Both are still strong players.

Despite missing almost half a season while recovering from knee surgery, Malkin scored 20 goals. Letang finished fifth in the league in average ice time and scored a career-best 58 assists, playing a more disciplined style consistently.

Fenway Sports Group — which last bought the team from Ron Berkeley and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux — has promised to continue spending on salary caps. Still, keeping both franchise icons would require at least one of them to take a bit of a leeway and Letang from Montreal is expected to make a serious bid to end his career in his hometown.

Rust, just 30, has scored 20 goals in three straight seasons and had a productive series against Rangers with two goals and six assists. What he orders in the open market may depend on whether teams feel his output is a byproduct of playing with Crosby.

net worth

Jari returned from a rocky playoff series against the Islanders last spring and made his second All-Star team. A broken leg took him out of the lineup in mid-April and when Casey DeSmith left Game 1 against the Rangers with a main injury, Pittsburgh turned to travelman Louis Domingue.

While Domingue did not perform brilliantly in more than five games, the team’s decision not to consolidate depth on the trade deadline gave the Penguins a chance to advance.


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