This is the end of the Pittsburgh Penguins as we know them.
For the fifth straight season, the Penguins were dispatched from the Stanley Cup playoffs by a lower-seeded team.
They once again suffered the indignity of a Game 7 home defeat, losing 2-1 to the New York Rangers in the deciding game of their conference semifinal series at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
It’s the second time in four years that the Penguins squandered a 3-1 series lead and lost a Game 7 on home ice.
It’s the fourth time in five seasons that the Penguins finished in the top three in the Eastern Conference during regular-season play, yet couldn’t get past the conference semifinals.
And it’s all happened under the watch of coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero. Both should pay for this collapse with their jobs.
Bylsma is all but guaranteed to be fired quickly, although he is the secondary culprit for this criminally underachieving team.
He signed a two-year contract extension after the Penguins scored two goals total while being swept from the Eastern Conference Final by the Boston Bruins in 2013, but that deal may as well be burning in a garbage can outside a local Primanti Bros.
This incarnation of the Penguins wasn’t as undermanned and lacking in talent as last year’s team, which had no chance against a deeper, more talented Bruins.
The 2014 Penguins addressed some of those problems at the trade deadline with the acquisitions of Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc, yet Bylsma’s team allowed the exhausted Rangers off the mat.
It’s not that Bylsma is an incompetent coach and won’t work again in the NHL—ManGamesLost.com indicates he guided this team to the second-best record in the East this season despite losing a league-high 529 man-games to injury.
That’s not an accomplishment to be brushed off just because he has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on his roster.
For Bylsma, his part is over. The public pressure turns to Ray Shero now. How does he respond? This is a GM's game seven.— PensNation_K (@PensNation_K) May 14, 2014
The deeper, more insidious issue with the Penguins is they have Crosby and Malkin, yet Shero has failed to build anything resembling a Stanley Cup contender around the two best players in the world.
It’s almost unfathomable for a general manager to pull off the one-sided deal of James Neal and Matt Nisknanen for Alex Goligoski, but still be substandard at his job.
Despite not one but two historically poor postseasons from Marc-Andre Fleury, Shero ignored the issue and brought him back for a third postseason.
Fleury didn’t sink the ship like he did in 2012 or force Bylsma to change goaltenders like he did in 2013, but he was wildly inconsistent against the Rangers.
Fleury was bad in Game 1, fantastic in Games 2 through 4, yet couldn’t crack a .900 save percentage in any of the final three games of this series. Fleury wasn’t the problem in Game 7, but he was anything but a Cup-winning, series-clinching goaltender in Games 5 and 6.
And that was foreseeable. That’s on Shero.
Shero took the job on May 25, 2006, inheriting Crosby and Malkin from his predecessor, Craig Patrick.
His draft record was analyzed wonderfully over at The Pens Blog and shows his inability to develop players, poor asset management and bad decisions that have squandered some of the best years of Crosby and Malkin.
All it takes for Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to see where his roster has gone awry is to look at the Rangers, who were celebrating on his ice Tuesday night.
Depth is everything in the postseason and the Rangers have it in spades. The Rangers’ third line of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot had six goals and seven assists in this series, while fourth-liner Brian Boyle scored the first goal of Game 7.
While Crosby had one goal in seven games, Rangers star scorer Rick Nash has yet to score a goal this postseason.
However, the difference between the teams lies in how they were built at the bottom of the lineup, with the Rangers’ bottom-six forwards offering scoring balance the Penguins simply lack. If the stars don't produce, the Rangers have other answers.
And they answered repeatedly against the Penguins.
It certainly helps to have Henrik Lundqvist stopping 102 of 105 shots over the final three games of the series, but that’s the type of performance that Fleury simply does not have in his bag. Any competent general manager worth his salt would have fixed that problem long ago.
Everyone will criticize Crosby, but he was set up to fail by Shero, and Bylsma was unable to coach away the flaws. The Pittsburgh star foreshadowed the moves that are likely coming and (via The Associated Press) said, "I think there's always questions. When expectations are high and you don't win that's normal. I'm sure there will be a lot of questions."
There will be changes in Pittsburgh after this loss to the Rangers, and they need to start at the top.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
All statistics via NHL.com.
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