People can talk about the injuries to the Penguins as being an excuse, but there aren't any teams who can lose their top three defencemen, a first-line winger, and a second-line centerman superstar without feeling a few effects. Malkin was hurt, Pascal Dupuis' loss in the lineup was never made up, and having all three of Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, and Christian Ehrhoff out of lineup forced players into roles in these playoffs that they were never supposed to see.
It also didn't help that David Perron, Maxim Lapierre, and Daniel Winnik did nothing to help the team when they were needed most. Perron had one helper and was a -1, Lapierre went pointless and -2, and Winnik was held pointless and recorded a dreadful -6. These were three players the Penguins traded for this season, and none of them showed up in the playoffs.
In the end, you can blame Malkin or the injuries or the lack of production from some key players, but the one player that the Penguins seemingly never replaced this season was Pascal Dupuis. Make no mistake that Dupuis is the engine that makes the Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis line so good. He chases down loose pucks, he forechecks like a demon, he battles in the corners, and he can score. Dupuis is the hustle guy the Penguins sorely needed, and his loss early in the season to a blood clot was clearly evident in how the Penguins finished.
“We're missing some guys. All year. It's tough to get your rhythm as far as team identity. I'm not using that as an excuse by any means. We still found a way to get ourselves into the playoffs,” Sidney Crosby told reporters after Game Five.
However, we must give the Rangers credit for doing what they had to do in dispatching the Penguins. Lundqvist was solid in net and they got great contributions from guys like Derek Brassard, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin in putting the Penguins out. Rick Nash, who had four goals in 37 playoff games with the Rangers prior to this series, had a goal and three assists while Martin St. Louis had just one assist. Clearly, the Rangers were getting major contributions from players outside their two superstars. That's playoff hockey.
Defensively, the Rangers look solid. McDonagh and Dan Girardi are anchoring this very mobile unit that features Keith Yandle, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, and Matt Hunwick. They gave the Penguins very little ice to work with in this series, and they like to play physical. Only Hunwick didn't record a point in the series from the Rangers' rearguards, so this bodes well as the Rangers press on. With Lundqvist's outstanding play, this team might be poised for another deep run if they can get their offence to start firing on all cylinders.
In the end, Marc-Andre Fleury deserved better, but the team in front of him was held together with duct tape and chewing gum. You can point fingers at GM Jim Rutherford for the salary cap issues at the end of the season, but there's no way that he could have predicted that he'd be without his three best defencemen, a top-six forward, and employing a superstar playing through pain. Forcing depth guys like Rob Scuderi, Ben Lovejoy, and Brian Dumoulin into top-six defencemen roles was asking for trouble.
The Rangers were the better team, but only because Pittsburgh couldn't ice their best team. Like The Penguin in Batman, though, the Penguins will go back to the drawing board as they were vanquished by the Blueshirts of Gotham.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!