-One of the truly tired cliches in this sport is the goaltender has to be the team's best player. It could be a preseason game or a postseason game. The goaltender has to be the best player.
-Tonight, it's not a cliche. It's the absolute truth. The Penguins need Marc-Andre Fleury more than ever. Henrik Lundqvist enters this game with a 4-1 record in Game 7s. He has one his last four. A fifth win tonight would give him the NHL record for most consecutive Game 7 wins. Three of his wins have been with 2-1 scores. In other words, he's excellent in these situations.
-Fleury needs to be better. He was okay in Game 6. Okay won't cut it. He needs to win a staring contest with Lundqvist. That soft second goal Fleury allowed to Carl Hagelin which gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead and forced the Penguins to call timeout? If Fleury makes a routine save on that, that game could have taken a totally different direction. Instead, the Rangers sat on a lead they would never relinquish.
-The last two goals Lundqvist has allowed in this series have been a sublime, dominant effort by Evgeni Malkin in Game 5 and a fluky hop off the stick of Brandon Sutter. It's doubtful the Penguins are going to get any soft goals tonight. They can't allow any in their end of the ice either.
-How long has it been since Lundqvist lost a Game 7? The game was on Game 7, Sean Avery was on the Rangers and Sergei Fedorov scored the game-winning goal in the 2009 Eastern Conference quarterfinal:
-Maybe the Penguins can have equipment manager Dana Heinze sew a No. 91 onto Evgeni Malkin's jersey for good luck.
-It goes without saying a loss tonight will surely usher significant changes for the Penguins. With the exception of Sidney Crosby, no one's position with the team would figure to be safe. Over the last few days, a lot of talking heads and pixel-lighters have been barfing out plenty of bold proclamations that management will be fired or players will be traded as if it's some brilliant revelation. Everyone inside and outside the organization knows what happens if the Penguins are on the wrong side of this game tonight. This will either be the end of a futile five-year pursuit of a second Stanley Cup title for this group or it will be the continuation of that second title.
-The Penguins did not skate in any line rushes this morning so your guess at lines for tonight is as good as ours. We would expect to see A LOT of combinations throughout the game.
-Lundqvist was fined $5,000 for squirting water on Sidney Crosby in Game 6. If Lundqvist had done that two days earlier, we think he would have gotten away with it. Instead, he did it the day after Bruins forward Shawn Thornton did the same thing to Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban. Thornton was fined as well but at a smaller amount. In the wake of Lundqvist doing something similar, the league had to take action.
-Where the league fouled up with Thornton is that is never officially distinguished Thornton's actions as being from the bench. He interfered with active play from the bench. While squirting water seems like a silly harmless action, it still interfered with active play. The league took action but in doing so, it vaguely labeled Thornton's misdeed as "unsportsmanlike conduct." There was no reference to him being on the bench.
-One day later, Lundqvist does the same thing but did so while the second period came to a halt and Crosby was involved in a scrum on the ice and not technically during active play. After failing to make the distinction that Thornton was on the bench, the league really had no choice but to fine Lundqvist even though his actions had no impact on play.
-The Penguins stayed in a hotel last night as if they were on a road trip. It's an interesting team-building tactic. We're not sure if it will have any bearing on tonight's game but this team could use something to unite them after two poor efforts in Games 5 and 6.
-Some pregame sights. The barn:
-Jussi Jokinen has a fan here:
-Paul Martin Team USA:
-The Penguins could use Maxime Talbot tonight:
-Fans entering the barn:
-The big screen:
-There are a few Rangers fans present. Henrik Lundqvist and Brian Leetch:
-Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh:
-Former Rangers/Penguins Martin Straka and Alexei Kovalev:
-Former Penguins/Rangers forward Andy Bathgate:
-Jersey of the Night: A Game 7 hero, Darius Kasparaitis:
-The Penguins' starters are Sidney Crosby, Brian Gibbons, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
-Their scratches are Beau Bennett, Chris Conner, Deryk Engelland, Brooks Oprik, Taylor Pyatt and Tomas Vokoun.
-The Penguins' lines and defensive pairings in warmups were:
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Brian Gibbons
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Lee Stempniak
Joe Vitale - Marcel Goc - Craig Adams
Kris Letang - Paul Martin
Matt Niskanen - Olli Maatta
Robert Bortuzzo - Rob Scuderi
-We can't protest the scratch of Bennett. He took two penalties in Game 6 and has mostly been ineffective since midway through the first round against the Blue Jackets.
-The Rangers' starters are Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist.
-Their scratches are Conor Allen, Ryan Bourque, Dan Carcillo, Raphael Diaz, Justin Falk, Jesper Fast, Tommy Hughes, Danny Kristo, David Leneveu, Oscar Lindberg, Dylan McIlrath, J.T. Miller, Darroll Powe and Danny Syvret.
-Jeff Jimerson allows the crowd to sing the anthem this time:
19:55: Almost immediately a throaty "LET'S-GO-PENS!" roars down on to the ice.
19:39: Crosby whips a wrister from above the right circle which Lundqvist snags.
18:36: John Moore tries to skate a puck out from behind his net and he is planted hard into left half wall boards by Brandon Sutter.
18:04: A wrister by McDonagh from the left half wall is wide of the cage.
17:39: Derek Dorsett tries to push a puck up ice from the neutral zone while off balance. Letang step up and hits him. Dorsett staggers and falls to the ice.
16:07: Neal gets planted into the right corner boards of the Rangers' zone by Marc Staal. Neal gets up and lumbes to the bench with a slight hitch in his step.
14:57: After Sutter forces John Moore into a turnover on the Rangers' right wing wall, Bortuzzo corrals a puck at the left point, moves in a bit and rips a wrister which Lundqvist snags.
14:47: The Penguins are shooting like crazy. Gibbons takes a pass at the blue line and rips a wrister from the high slot. Lundqvist snags it.
14:35: The Ranger take the first lead an it's way too easy. Nisanen fumbles a puck at the point and Dorsett pushes it up the left wing boards of hte netural zone. He gains the offenive zone on the left wing, absorbs a hit from Nisanen but manages to deal a pass to Dominic Moore in the right circle. With Maatta the only one back to defend, Moore is able to deal a pass to Boyle in the slot. Uncontested, Boyle then tucks a forehand shot through the five hole of Fleury. Ugh. That was horrendous. Put it on Niskanen. Moore and Dorsett get assists. Rangers 1-0.
13:30: Off a defensive zone turnover by Martin, Benoit Pouliot rips a wrister from the right circle which Fleury snags.
12:21: Nash rips a wrister from the right circle. Martin blocks it.
11:52: Maritn rips a wrister from the left point wide of the cage on the near side. It hits off the end boards and deflects to Crosby in the right circle where he has a backhander cocked but fans on the puck. Lundqvist was out of position for that.
10:51: Crosby chops a half sapper from the right point. Lundqvist punches it away with his blocker. The Rangers bobble the rebound and Sutter is able to sweep it on net with a backhander from the right circle. Lundqvist eats it up.
10:18: Scuderi rips a wrister from the right cicle wide on the near side.
10:13: Battling for a puck in the Rangers' right wing corner, the great Joe Vitale is smack into the boards by John Moore.
8:25: Martin St. Louis whips a wrister from the high slot on net. Fleury eats it up. Fans offer "FLERR-EEE! chants.
7:42: Adams whips a wrister from the right half wall on net. Lundqvist fights it off.
6:30: Playing a puck out of hi own right wing corner, McDonagh is spun to the ice on a solid hit by James Neal.
4:53: After a few solid seconds of puck possession in the offensive zone by the Penguins' fourth line, Scuderi chucks a wrister from the right point which is deflected wide.
4:20: Kevin Kelin rips a wrister from the right point wide of the cage.
4:01: A one-timer by Mats Zuccarello from the right point is wide of the cage.
3:23: Crosby tries to push the puck up the right wing and is held up by Kreider just inside the Rangers' blue line. That's two minutes. Crosby, Kunitz Neal Malkin and Niskanen take the ice.
2:33: Less than a minute later, things get evened up. Staal tries to control a puck from the right of his cage and is held up by Neal. That's two minutes for holding. We'll see four-on-four play for 1:10.
1:22: As Kreider's minor expires, Lundqvist smothers a puck near his cage. The Rangers will have a 49 second power play.
0:54: Zuccarello takes a centering pass in the left circle and whips a wrister on net. Fleury smothers it.
0:33: The Neal minor expires.
0:00: End of period. Rangers 1, Penguins 0.
-That was a pretty even period all around. The "only" problem was that atrocious play leading to the Rangers goal.
-The Penguins appear to have realized they just need to shoot the puck. They've been firing it pretty liberally. That said, very few of the shots have been of high quality.
-Sutter has been playing like he gives a you-know-what. He's hitting anything in white.
-The Penguins lead in shots on net, 10-7.
-The Penguins have a 17-12 lead in attempted shots.
-No one has more than one blocked shot.
-Dan Girardi leads the game with 8:25 of ice time.
-Letang leads the Penguins with 8:05.
-The Penguins are dominating faceoffs, 18-9 (67 percent).
-Sutter is 7 for 8 (88 percent).
-Stepan is 2 for 5 (40 percent).
-Martin leads the game with two blocked shots.
19:42: After Crosby whips a backhander from the right circle at the cage and Kunitz directs it on net, Lundqvist smothers the puck as play is being halted, Gibbons drives to the net, loses balance and crashes into the cage hard. He takes a few moments to gather himself and returns to the bench.
19:07: Off a defensive zoen turnover by Letang, Pouliot has a chance in the slot but lifts a forehand shot off the cross bar.
18:48: A backhander by Malkin from the right circle is off the mark.
17:32: Dorsett golfs a slapper from the left point wide of the cage.
16:59: Martin chops a slapper from the left point well side of the net.
16:37: Taking a pass at the center point, Martin rips a wrister which Lundqvist snags easily.
15:45: Finland beats Sweden. Taking a pass at the left point, Maatta cranks a slapper into a mass of bodies in front of Lundqvist. The puck rattles around before Jokinen is able to settle in in the right circle. Jokinen is able to then chuck it by the glove hand of a scrambling Lundqvist and ties the game. This place erupts in noise. Jokinen celebrates like a Viking. Neal and Maatta get assists. The "Hey Song" is played. Penguins 1, Rangers 1.
14:55: Sing-Song "Heennnn...rrrriikkkkk" chants begin
14:40: St. Louis pushes a puck up the right wing. Martin races back and dives to knock it off his stick.
13:43: All alone in the right circle, Girardi takes a pass and rips a quick wrister to the far side. FLeury kicks it out with his right skate.
13:35: Off a drop pass, Sutter rips a wrister which Lundqvist fights off.
13:15: The Rangers get a power play as Niskanen trips Brassard in the Penguins' left wing corner. Scuderi, Adams Sutter and Martin take the ice.
12:37: Richards flings a wrister from the right point at a collection of bodies in front of the net. It hits something. Brassard tries to settle it and shoot but that gets blocked as well.
12:04: The Penguins get caught deep short-handed and pay a price. After Stepan has a pass from the right wing blocked, St. Louis backhands the rebound from the left of the cage to the slot. Richards is able to rip the puck through some confusion to restore the lead. The Penguins had Sutter and Gibbons go in deep on a short-handed chance and they got caught deep on that play. St. Louis and Stepan get assists. Rangers 2-1.
11:02: A re-direction by Kunitz is denied by Lundqvist.
9:24: A wrister by Rich Nash from deep on the right wing is off the side of the cage.
9:10: A wrister by Sutter from the right circle is blocked by Gibbons.
8:52: Crosby and Malkin line up for a faceoff with Kunitz.
6:48: A wrister by Goc off the left wing is blocked out of play by Stralman.
6:03: After Maatta fumbles a puck at the Rangers' left point, Stepan pushes it up ice on a two-on-one against Niskanen. From the left circle, Stepan rips a wrister wide to the far side.
5:54: On a give and go play with Crosby, Kunitz backhands a puck from in tight and Lundqvist rejects it.
5:38: A one-timer by Malkin off the right point is blockered away by Lundqvist.
5:11: Malkin lift a wrister from the right circle juuuust wide to the far side.
4:10: Sutter has a nice chance in the right circle but has it stripped by a Rangers defender.
4:01: Dorsett spins with the puck in the Penguins' left wing corner but is flattened by Letang.
3:28: Hagelin chucks in off the left wing and lifts a wrister. FLeury fights it off.
3:14: Stepniak tries to push a puck up the right wall the Rangers zone but slammed ot the ice hard by a rangers defender.
2:03: ROBBERY! Jokinen controls puck in deep on the right and and centers a puck above the blue paint. Neal is there and chops a wrister right into the stomach of Lundqvist. Lundqvist read that play perfectly. Attendance is announced as 18,635. It is the team's 334th consecutive sellout.
1:00: It appears Kris Letang is absent from the Penguins' bench.
0:00: End of period. Rangers 2, Penguins 1.
-A defensive breakdown killed the Penguins once again. They got to aggressive on the penalty kill and paid the price.
-We would expect the Rangers to revert to their John Tortorella days here. They will trap and collapse around their net like crazy.
-Lundqvist is tuned in. The Penguins are going to need another garbage goal in order to beat him.
-Jussi Jokinen is hardly a complete player but he's been one of the few members of this team to show up game-in game-out these players.
-That brings us to Sidney Crosby. The Penguins need something from their top player. He's been a non-factor most of the night.
-The Penguins have a 23-13 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins have a 40-29 lead in attempted shots.
-Kunitz leads the game with three shots.
-Richards, Hagelin and Pouliot lead the Rangers with two shots.
-The Penguins have a 28-20 lead in faceoffs (58 percent).
-Sutter is 9 for 14 (64 percent).
-Dominic Moore is 4 for 9 (45 percent).
-Martin leads the game with three blocked shots.
-None of the Penguins has more than one.
19:55: Malkin starts with Neal and Jokinen on his wings.
18:42: Niskanen fires a slapper form the right point. Lundqvist manages to kick it out.
18:20: A scoring change is announced. On Jokinen's goal, Malkin and Maatta get assists.
17:18: A wrister by Pouiot from the left wing is kicked out by Fleury's left leg.
16:37: Bortuzzo chops a slapper from the right point. Lundqvist boots it out. Malkin is there for the rebound but can't bury it.
15:30: Maatta is skating with Letang while the great Joe Vitale is between Glass and Gibbons.
15:07: A wrister by Letang from the right cirlce is blocked by McDonagh.
13:19: Taking a centering pass from Stepniak, Sutter rips a wrister from the high slot. Lundqvist knocks it dead and smother to freeze play.
12:50: Off a feed by Malkin, Neal rips a wrister from the right circle. It gets blocked. Malkin deals the rebound to Martin above the left circl. Martin rips a wrister which Lundqvist snags.
12:11: Fleury tries to settle a puck dumped in on net and deals it to Maatta. Maatta misplays it a bit Fleury has to kick it out as the Rangers swarm the net.
11:53: Stempniak rips a wrister from the right wing which is kicked out by Lundqvist.
11:44: On a two-on-one, St. Louis rips a wrister off the right wing over the cage. St. Louis appeared to even celebrate prematurely before realizing he missed.
10:55: A wrister by Dominic Moore from the left wing is eaten up by Fleury.
9:42: Jokinen chucks a bouncing backhander from the right wing which deflects wide.
9:14: Neal has a chance in tight as he cuts across the crease but can't settle the puck enough to get a shot off.
7:33: Off a feed from a falling Boyle, Dominic Moore lifts a wrister from the left circle. Fleury challenges and fights it off.
6:01: Stempniak is skating with Crosby and Kunitz.
5:47: A wrister by Niskanen from above the left circle is blocked. He gets his rebound back and rips it on net. Lundqvist eats it up.
5:42: A one-timer by Martin from the right point is blocked by Boyle.
5:15: Wow! Neal has chance in tight blocked. Letang then has a has a chance from the left circle blocke. Martin has his backhander from the left circle covered by Lundqvist. Malkin then drives in and tries to push Lundqvist into the cage. All heck breaks loose. OH WOW! How did the Rangers hold that out! Malkin and McDonagh get minors. We'll see four on four play for two minutes.
4:58: Crosby can't bury a a chance in tight.
4:25: A one-timer by Neal from the right wing is punched out by Lundqvist.
3:54: After stealing a puck off Nash in the right circle, Sutter has a centering pass blocked by Stralman.
3:15: Malkin and McDonagh return to the ice.
2:27: Girardi chops a slapper from the right point. Fleury kicks it out.
2:03: Neal get away with slash on Nash in the Penguins' right circle.
1:18: FLeury is pulled for an extra attacker.
0:28: A shot by Hagel in from the right point is wide of the cage.
0:03: A last second shot by Matta is wide of the cage.
0:00: End of game. End of season. End of playoffs. End of more? Rangers 2, Penguins 1.
-Nothing will be figured out tonight. The postgame thoughts of a frazzled hockey blogger less than two hours after the Penguins' season came to an end won't find the answers as to why this team failed to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Make one thing certain, something is flawed with the Pittsburgh Penguins and significant changes are required for this franchise to win the Stanley Cup. Those changes will take place in the next handful of weeks and months.
-In many ways, this was the quintessential loss for the 2013-14 Penguins. Both goals they surrendered were off odd-man rushes. A bad penalty by James Neal nullified a power play. Their goaltender was outplayed (albeit by a goaltender in another stratosphere) and their depth players up front were once again a non-factor. If you want to describe this season in a nutshell, Game 7 was it.
-One thing which crippled the Penguins tonight and for most of the series was the lack of significant impact by Sidney Crosby. The best player in the world was mostly ordinary in this series. His plays with the puck in tight spaces, botched passes and mostly inert shots on net was a considerable departure from the player who ripped up the league most of the regular season. The Penguins need much, much more from Sidney Crosby than he provided.
-James Neal was another player who let the team down. And this wasn't a new theme for Neal when is comes to the postseason. In three out of his four postseason with the Penguins, he has been limited to two or fewer goals. He's a goal scorer and that elite part of his game has vacated him and the Penguins in the postseaoson during most of his tenure with the team. When you throw in his penchant for poor penalties, Neal hurt the team more often than he helped.
-We went to the Rangers' room after the game and one quote which stuck with us came from Marc Staal. He was asked to describe what his team did to the Penguins' offense:
"They love to pull up. Hit late guys [with passes]. That part of the game, we took away from them pretty well. That frustrates any skilled player when they aren’t making those plays across the line. We’re not giving them time to do that and we did that pretty consistently over the last three games."
-To us, that illustrates a reliance on making the pretty play and not reverting to meat and potatoes hockey. Look at the Rangers' game-winning goal tonight. It came off a blocked pass right in fornt of the cage with two of their star players - Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards - setting it up. The Rangers got ugly. The only thing ugly about the Penguins was the results of their offense.
-The lack of depth over the course of the series was evident, particularly tonight. The Rangers got five goals from players playing bottom six roles - two each from Carl Hagelin and Richards as well as one from Brian Boyle. The Penguins got all of one from a bottom sixer via Lee Stempniak in Game 1. The Penguins were always going to have issues with their bottom six heading into the season. That's not a surprise. That said, it killed them most of the season and in this series.
-Crosby and Neal were absent and deserve much of the blame but the Rangers saw St. Louis and Rick Nash go MIA during much of the series. Their bottom six picked up some of the slack.
-Moving Evgeni Malkin to the right wing helped the team on a temporary basis. It sparked the team's offense late in the first round and helped them stake a lead in this round as well. But whatever boost it provided the team wore off eventually and it hurt the team's depth ultimately.
-Make no mistake, Henrik Lundqvist took this series away from the Penguins. Martin St. Louis' family situation certainly created a rallying point for the Rangers but Lundqvist shut things down. The Penguins pressured him quite a bit throughout this series and he was up to the task more often than not. Tonight, he provided one of the best goaltending performances Penguins fans have ever seen in person.
-Marc-Andre Fleury was good this game. Not great. He was kind of left out to dry on each of his goal. He could have stolen one of the goals he allowed but he gave his team a chance to win against one of the elite goaltenders in the world. He deserves little blame for tonight's result.
-As macabre as it might sound, the death of Martin St. Louis's mother gave this team a rallying point. The change in emotion and attitude for this squad after Games 3 and 4 compared to the last three games was a complete 180 degree turn. Again, not to diminish the significance of what happened in St. Louis' personal live, but this tragedy galvanized his team.
-The fatigue factor which hounded the Rangers early in this series eventually wore off. The Penguins took advantage of it while they could but eventually, that aspect of the game leveled off.
-Evgeni Malkin was not a problem in this series. At times, he looked like the player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy. With Crosby struggling, he tried to carry the team as much as possible. His effort and heart can not be questioned after this game.
-Jussi Jokinen made the most out of his chances this postseason. He made himself a lot of money as a pending unrestricted free agent.
-The Penguins also lost most of the physical battles in this series. As Staal said:
"Both teams aren’t overly physical. I don’t think it was that type of series at all but as far as our one-on-one battles in the corner, coming up with loose pucks, all that type of stuff I though we were on the better end of that absolutely."
-Again, that's a bottom six issue primarily.
-We'll address the Penguins' need for organizational change in the upcoming days but as we said before. Change is needed and it is coming. This will be a busy summer.
-The Penguins had a 36-20 lead in shots on net.
-The Penguins led 65-38 in attempted shots.
-Paul Martin led the game with five shots.
-Hagelin led the Rangers with four.
-Martin led the game with 28:10 of ice time.
-Girardi led the Rangers with 23:51.
-The Penguins led in faceoffs, 38-31 (55 percent).
-Brandon Sutter was 11 -17 (65 percent).
-Dominic Moore was 8 for 16 (50 percent).
-Martin and Boyle led the game with four blocked shots each.
-The Penguins are now 7-7 all time in Game 7s and 2-7 all-time in home Game 7s.
-The Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit and won for the first time in franchise history.