Ranking the 5 Most Disappointing Seasons in Pittsburgh Penguins History
It's a cruel reality of sports that, each season, every team but one will end the season disappointed at the outcome.
Having gone from the proverbial penthouse to the doghouse and back again, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had their share of ups and downs and, for every championship banner hanging from the rafters at the Consol Energy Center, there are quite a few unfulfilled expectations.
As the regular season winds down and the postseason approaches, let's look at the five most disappointing seasons in Pittsburgh Penguins history.
No. 5: 1974-75 Penguins Make History the Wrong Way
Entering their eighth year in the league, the 1974-75 Penguins were looking to make a name for themselves.
While they would accomplish that feat, it was, unfortunately, not the kind of history they had envisioned making.
After finishing third in their first season in the Norris Division, the Pens defeated St. Louis Blues two to none to win the best-of-three preliminary round series and advanced to the quarterfinals to face the New York Islanders.
Known as an up-and-coming team, the Islanders had advanced to the postseason for the first team in franchise history in 1975 and shocked the rival New York Rangers in their best-of-three matchup.
Before a raucous home crowd at the Civic Arena, the Pens won the first two games 5-4 and 3-1 and took a three games to none stranglehold on the series with a 6-4 win at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
With their backs to the wall, the Islanders managed to avoid being swept with a 3-1 win in Game 4, started to turn the tide with a 4-2 win in Pittsburgh, evened the series with a 4-1 win on Long Island and completed the miracle comeback with 1-0 win Game 7 before a stunned Pittsburgh crowd.
The Islanders would move on to face the eventual Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers but would lose in seven games.
The Penguins, having become only the second team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead, would suffer the after effects for years and would lose seven of their next nine playoff series.
No. 4: 1995-96 Penguins Melt in the Florida Heat
With Mario Lemieux having returned from a year off due to injuries and with Jaromir Jagr at the top of his game, the 1995-96 Penguins seemed destined for the Stanley Cup Final.
Both Lemieux and Jagr topped the 60-goal plateau, Ron Francis tallied 119 points (which would have led the NHL each of the last seven seasons) and Petr Nedved added 99 points as the Pens led the NHL with 362 goals—almost 40 goals more than any other team in the league.
After surviving a hard fought series first-round matchup with the Washington Capitals, the Pens rolled past the New York Rangers but sustained a critical injury in the fifth and deciding game of the second-round series, as Ron Francis suffered a broken foot and missed the rest of the playoffs.
While most expected the Pens to make short work of the Florida Panthers, few could have imagined that the Panthers' trapping and grabbing style of hockey coupled with the strong play of goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck would frustrate the Pens big guns as much as they did.
Despite taking a 3-2 lead in the series with a big home win in Game 5, the Pens failed to close out the Panthers on the road in Game 6 and lost Game 7 on a bizarre 58-foot slap shot that eluded Tom Barrasso.
The Panthers would go on to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, but not before robbing the Pens of another shot at the Stanley Cup.
After averaging more than four goals per game during the regular season, the Pens could only manage two goals per game against the Panthers and were left to wonder what might have been.
No. 3: 2012-13 Penguins Run Aground in Boston
Perhaps no team has ever entered the Stanley Cup playoffs on as big of a roll as did the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Having walked away with the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Pens seemed unstoppable as they reeled off 15-straight wins near the end of the season.
After adding Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray at the trade deadline, the Pens were seen as the prohibitive Stanley Cup favorites, and despite the late-season loss of Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw, won eight of their last 10 games.
However, in their first-round matchup against the upstart New York Islanders, the Pens quickly learned the hard way that tenacity and hard work can overcome a talent disparity, as the Islanders twice rebounded from losses to tie the series at two games a piece and drove goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to the bench.
With strong goaltending by Tomas Vokoun, the Pens were able to right the ship and close out the Islanders in six games before dispatching of the overmatched Ottawa Senators in just five games.
Facing the Boston Bruins on home ice for the start of the Eastern Conference Final, the Pens seemed to have everything going their way, but facing a physical and disciplined opponent, the Pens lost their focus as well as the first two games of the series by a combined score of 9-1.
Despite much stronger showings in the next two games on the road, the Pens could only muster a single goal and were swept for the first time since 1978-79 Boston Bruins accomplished the feat.
No. 2: 2005-06 Penguins Invest a Lot for Little Return
Having survived years of financial instability and having had to sell off their best players just to stay afloat, the Penguins and their fans looked forward to the 2005-06 season as the first step of the team's return to greatness.
Armed with money to spend on free agents under the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement, general manager Craig Patrick quickly revamped his roster with well-known veterans John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy and Sergei Gonchar to play alongside Mark Recchi, owner/captain Mario Lemieux and promising rookies Ryan Malone and Sidney Crosby.
Despite the lofty expectations, it didn't take long to realize that the veterans were too old and the younger players too raw as the Pens dropped their first nine games and only registered back-to-back wins four times during the entire season.
To make matters worse, Ziggy Palffy decided to leave the team for personal reasons Jan. 18, 2006, and, just one week later, Mario Lemieux was forced to retire for a second time because of a heart condition.
With the season lost and a lot of money tied up in older players, Patrick traded away Mark Recchi and Dick Tarnstrom, and the Pens would finish with the second-worst record in the NHL and the second overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
While the disappointing season would cost Craig Patrick his job, new GM Ray Shero would use that pick on Jordan Staal as the Pens returned to the postseason the next season and won the Stanley Cup two years later.
No. 1: The 1992-93 Penguins Fail to "Threepeat"
After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 in dominating fashion, the Pittsburgh Penguins were viewed by many as the next great hockey dynasty entering the 1992-93 season.
With Mario Lemieux winning both Hart the Art Ross trophies—despite missing a quarter of the season because of cancer—and with Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens and Tom Barrasso all in their prime, the Pens seemed unbeatable.
After reeling off an NHL-record 17-game winning streak, the Pens quickly eliminated the New Jersey Devils in five games before moving on to face the upstart New York Islanders, who handed the Pens their first home loss in more than two months by winning Game 1 in the Civic Arena.
Able to claw their way back to take a 3-2 series lead, the Pens had a chance to eliminate the Islanders in Game 6 on the road and in Game 7 at home, but the Islanders simply would not go away.
After surrendering seven goals and losing their composure in a Game 6 loss, the Pens returned home where, on what will perhaps forever be one of the darkest days in franchise history, David Volek of the Islanders scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
Despite setting the NHL record for the longest winning streak and the franchise record for most wins (56) and points (119) in a season, the 1992-93 Penguins will best be remembered, not as the greatest team in franchise history, but as the most disappointing one.