On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Penguins saw their Stanley Cup dreams come to an end at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. The elimination in the sixth game of the series sent the Penguins home early for a third straight year and surprised experts and fans who expected the team to be Stanley Cup favorites.
When a top team exits the playoffs prematurely, it's only natural to wonder what went wrong, and the Penguins have plenty of unanswered questions.
Here are some things that might have cost the Penguins the series and, thus, their season.
One of the things that hurt the Penguins in the Flyers matchup was a lack of momentum.
In Game 1, the Pens had a 3-0 lead after the first period, but allowed two goals from Daniel Briere and an additional tally from Brayden Schenn to take the game to overtime. Jakub Voracek scored the overtime game-winner that put the Penguins in a 1-0 hole on their home ice.
Pittsburgh gave up eight goals in each of the next two games before its 10-goal outburst in Game 4. But even in that game, the Flyers held a 3-2 lead with a little under five minutes to go in the first period before Pittsburgh took over.
Finally, in Game 6, Claude Giroux scored 32 seconds into the game, and the Penguins never found their footing, getting just one goal and losing the game.
Even in victory, the Penguins could not play 60-minute hockey on a consistent basis. This will come back to haunt teams in the postseason.
During the regular season, the Penguins had an 87.8 percent success rate on the penalty kill, good for third in the NHL. They also had 10 short-handed goals.
However, they could not get anything going in the playoffs, as that same unit is last in the NHL after finishing the postseason at just 47.8 percent.
Meanwhile, the Flyers' power play ranks first among playoff teams at 52.2 percent.
Pittsburgh took a lot of penalties during the series, and when it came time to try and make up for that, they couldn't shut down the Flyers' man-advantage. It's another way to go to show that regular-season results don't mean much in the playoffs.
A melee in Game 3 put three different Penguins players on the sidelines for Game 4.
Arron Asham was given a four-game ban after cross-checking Brayden Schenn in the throat and then hitting him while he was down on the ice. Craig Adams was handed one game for receiving an instigator penalty, and James Neal delivered a hit to Claude Giroux that also got him a one-game punishment.
Although the Penguins won Game 4 without these players, their actions made the Penguins as a whole look bad.
There were questions about whether Dan Bylsma had lost control of the bench. Furthermore, the team's character was questioned because the Pens have been known to condemn dirty play in the past, and now they seemed to be resorting to the same actions as a way of dealing with adversity.
Asham, Neal and Adams may have tried to rally their team, but those plans backfired. It showed that the Pens could not handle the pressure of being down in a series and forgot how to use their skill instead of questionable tactics.
The defense was another aspect of the Penguins' game that, while successful in the regular season, did not help them in the playoffs.
In the first 82 games, the Pens were in the middle of the league with 2.66 goals surrendered per game. That unit was led by Kris Letang and received contributions from physical players such as Brooks Orpik.
However, during the playoffs, they were last among playoff teams with an average of five goals given up over six games. Evgeni Malkin had eight giveaways, while Zbynek Michalek—who is being paid $5 million a season for three more years, mind you—was second with six.
Paul Martin, the Pens' other $5 million man, played just three games and had one goal and a minus-one. Martin's performance has been an issue all season, but it seemed even worse in a series the Penguins were capable of winning.
They say that defense wins championships, and even if the Pens had completed the impossible comeback, their defense may not have gotten them much further.
Malkin was second on the Penguins with eight points in the playoffs, but he did not score his first goal of the series until Game 4. He was also held scoreless in Games 1 and 5, the matchups in which the Pens blew a lead and won to force Game 6, respectively.
Although his points totals are nothing to be ashamed of, it is a concern that he spent a lot of time in the box. He had six penalty minutes, including four minutes in Game 5.
In addition, his defense was suspect. As previously mentioned, he had eight giveaways in the series, but he also finished with a minus-one, including a minus-four in Game 2.
This is not good enough for the Art Ross Trophy winner, who scored 50 goals and 109 points during the regular season.
The sign in this picture says it all about how poor Marc-Andre Fleury performed in the postseason.
Fleury finished the playoffs with a 2-4 record, averaging a .834 save percentage and 4.63 GAA. He was pulled in Game 3 for Brent Johnson after allowing six goals on 28 shots.
This is the second season Fleury has had a losing record in the playoffs, and his save percentage and GAA have also taken downward trends at points. It is hard to swallow after Fleury posted his second 40-win season in 2011-12, plus the fact that he seemed to shake his reputation of not performing in big games after the 2009 Stanley Cup run.
Fleury is not going anywhere because of this performance, but he must step it up if the Penguins are to come back stronger in the 2013 playoffs.