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What Went Wrong: End of an Era?

by Clyde E. Dawkins about a month ago in hockey
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The Pittsburgh Penguins' seven-game loss after a 3-1 series lead results in some wondering if this year was the current core's last chance

The Penguins have won one series since winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017

Nothing lasts forever. Those three words pertain to literally everything, even sports. In this case, it's about the Pittsburgh Penguins. 16 straight playoff appearances; the longest active streak in pro sports. In those 16 years, the Penguins have reached the Final Four five times, which resulted in four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, winning three of those four. Among the three Cups includes winning back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017, becoming the first team to achieve that feat in nearly 20 years. Since then, however, the Penguins haven't fared well in the playoffs, winning just one series since then.

In this go-around, the Penguins faced an equally strong New York Rangers team, but despite how evenly matched they were, it really looked like the Penguins would take down the Rangers. The reason was simple: they were giving it to Igor Shesterkin, the goalie who is up for both the Vezina and Hart this season. They survived Shesterkin's 79-save performance in Game 1's triple overtime victory, and after losing Game 2, they completely stifled Shesterkin in Games 3 and 4 at home--in fact, Shesterkin was removed in both games.

So how could the Penguins lose this series? The answer to "What Went Wrong?" for the Penguins, quite honestly, is complicated. It can be any number of things. For one, injuries in net. Pittsburgh's main goalie, Tristan Jarry, was sidelined prior to the playoffs, resulting in backup Casey DeSmith starting Game 1, only to be hit with the injury bug during the long overtime. The Penguins had to rely on Louis Domingue from that point on, and though he did shut the door the rest of the way in Game 1, he would have to be carried by Pittsburgh's offense in the series. Game 5 saw Domingue beaten to the punch badly in the latter half, and Game 6 saw him give up an easily savable game-winning goal to Chris Kreider. Speaking of Game 6, the Pens had to play that game without Sidney Crosby, as he was injured due to a dirty play by Jacob Trouba in Game 5. Even so, the Pens hung in there in Game 6 until that Kreider goal.

Game 7 saw not only Crosby back, but Jarry as well, and the Penguins actually led 3-2 after two periods. But once again, the Penguins could not finish; Mika Zibanejad tied it with over five minutes left in regulation, and after overtime was needed, Brock McGinn's very obvious holding penalty resulted in a power play for the Rangers, and it was Artemi Panarin's shot in the waning seconds of the man advantage that ended the Penguins' season. The Penguins had leads in each of the last three games of the series, but in the end, they still failed to advance in the playoffs for the fourth straight year, which includes three first round losses and the shocking Qualifying Round defeat in 2020.

Pittsburgh's core (from left to right): Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin

Now that the question, "What Went Wrong?," has been answered, a second question comes to mind. Is this the end? Are we witnessing the end of an era? Pittsburgh already saw one era end with the retirement of legendary quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and there could be another one ending in hockey, as this could be the last time that the Penguins' core could be together. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang have been through it all over the years, winning all three Cups during this stretch. Prior to the beginning of this year's playoffs, Crosby stated that it could be the current core's last chance at a fourth Cup, and he could be right. Malkin and Letang are unsigned for next season, and they could end up elsewhere during this offseason. As for Crosby, he's signed through the 2024-25 season, which would see "Sid the Kid" at age 37, but will it be just him and Jake Guentzel leading the team? Or will the core remain together for (at least) another year? Those are the looming questions.

As long as that group remains together, the Pittsburgh Penguins will continue to be a playoff team for years to come. As far as their Stanley Cup window, that's another story. This will be quite the offseason for the Penguins.

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About the author

Clyde E. Dawkins

Born on March 18, 1985. I am an avid fan of sports and wrestling, and I've been a fan of female villains since the age of eight. Also love movies--especially comedy and horror--and among my favorite TV shows are The Simpsons and Family Guy

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Excellent!!!

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