Ugh. The morning after.
There wasn't one of THESE morning afters last year. If you are reading this, the good news is that, like me, you have survived the night. You've been talked down off the bridge and gone through the mourning process. It's time to move on.
However, like all Pens fans, I'm left wondering just what the blog happened last night?
First of all, lets get this out of the way early: The better team won Game Seven. The Montreal Canadiens will play for the Eastern Conference title because they deserve it. Deep insight there, I know. This isn't a Habs piece, though.
There will be a lot of blame put on Marc Andre Fleury for this early playoff exit. While some of that blame is surely justified, it is ridiculous to pin the loss on one lone Penguin. You win as a team, you lose as a team. That's the way it has always been and that's the way it will always be.
But don't get me wrong, Fleury was bad. He allowed a goal on the first shot in three games of this series. The one scored just 32 seconds into Game Seven set the tone for the rest of the game. Just like that, the entire team was deflated.
Maybe we should have seen Fleury's floundering coming. After all, he only had a so-so season, and it seemed like there was just something missing from the Marc-Andre we saw get over the hump in 2008-09. Flower is a good goalie. He will bounce back, and, like all the Penguins, will learn from this season.
In the playoffs, your best players need to be your best players. Unfortunately for the Penguins, that was not the case with Evgeni Malkin, and especially Sidney Crosby. Jacques Martin and his team deserve a ton of praise for keeping the two-headed monster in check.
And that is maybe the biggest difference between the team that is looking for tee times now, and the team that hoisted the Stanley Cup eleven months ago. Last spring, Malkin stepped up and just took over the playoffs. He looked like a man playing against boys sometimes. Cam Ward still has Geno nightmares.
For whatever reason, that killer instinct just wasn't there this year.
It was a particularly frustrating series for the captain. Crosby looked flustered from the get-go, and quite honestly gave a lot of fuel to the cynical, objective Crosby Bashers out there on this great medium we call the internet.
On the backend, the defensive corps looked exposed in Game Seven. I'm still trying to figure out what Sergei Gonchar was doing on the fourth Canadiens goal. And while Gonch is taking a lot of heat today too, it's important to remember the he has likely played his last game as Penguin. He was awful last night, there's no arguing that, but he will always be one of my favourite players to ever don the black and Vegas gold.
In all likelihood, this is the end of the road for Billy Guerin too. Billy looked like the game had passed him by in the playoffs, no longer serviceable in the role he was playing. I'll remember the Bill Guerin from last year, scoring huge goals against the Flyers and being a huge cog in the wheel that got the Pens to the promised land.
These few words you're reading now are all I'm going to waste on Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Therein lies the secret to the offseason. Ray Shero must find more adequate wingers to compliment Geno and Sid.
At the end of the day, the Pens lost. The sun came up this morning, but my coffee doesn't taste quite as good. I'll probably burn my toast. C'est la vie.
If I have one message for my fellow Penguin faithful it is this: Refuse to be spoiled. Capitals fans thought they won the Cup in February (hell their owner even thought so). On top of skill, talent, and desire, it takes a lot of bounces and luck to capture Lord Stanley's mug. It is extremely difficult to win, and it's even tougher to repeat.
Anyone typing things like "Trade Fleury!" or "Crosby sucks," or "Trade Malkin for a couple wingers," should be drawn and quartered. That may be harsh, but it is the best I could come up with.
Rest assured Pens fans (and Pens haters). This team will be back to fight another day, and Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Fleury will all be leading the way again. We are still spoiled with an embarrassment of riches that any team in the league would love to have.
Still proud to be a Penguins fan. You all should be too. See you in October.