As the books close on the first round series between the Penguins and Rangers. it’s the Pens who are left behind to deal with a long summer and wondering what could have been.
Jake Guentzel summed it up pretty well when he said, “it just didn’t go our way”. Simple, but true.
Guentzel: “It’s disappointing. We’re right there. We put ourselves in a good spot, being up 3-1. Just disappointing to think about that we had a lead in each game and gave that away. Just an amazing group. We believed the whole time. It just didn’t go our way.” pic.twitter.com/ropNhLjJJR
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 16, 2022
On the surface, squandering a 3 games to 1 series lead can be confusing and angering. The other perspective (and probably closer to the real story) is that Pittsburgh going up 3-1 while using a third string goalie against the Vezina winner was remarkable but shaky.
No lead was safe as the series ticked on and the Pens couldn’t quite find that fourth win.
Round 1, PIT 3 and NYR 4
A bludgeoning at 5v5, but Shesterkin dramatically better than the motley crew of Penguins goaltenders; just enough to drag the Rangers over the line. pic.twitter.com/4DPGw5QfwF
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) May 16, 2022
With emotions still raw and running hot, it’s not much comfort to know the Pens deserved a better fate, but it’s still true just the same. This was a series that Pittsburgh mostly controlled.
While the last three games stand out in a comeback series, every game matters. Game 2, for instance, was just as impactful as any contest, and one that possibly could have gone a different way if Igor Shesterkin wasn’t excellent and Pittsburgh got better goaltending. The same could be said Game 7 where the Rangers scored two goals just seconds after Shesterkin turned away quality scoring chances.
But this wasn’t a classic Pens series where they got “goalie’d” and had to grin and bear with a Jaroslav Halak or Carey Price or Ilya Sorokin standing on his head and keeping them at bay. The Pens scored 25 goals in seven games on Shesterkin, which is both impressive and confounding at the same time. How could they do so well but still lose?
Certainly injuries played a part in that, with Jarry out until valiantly coming back for Game 7. Brian Dumoulin missing the last six games didn’t help the team try and insulate their goaltending situation made worse when Casey DeSmith’s core gave out. A series turning point was certainly when Sidney Crosby got hit up high and knocked out for a game and a half. If any of the above go slightly different, perhaps the series plays out with a different result.
At the end of the day, however, in the NHL playoffs it usually boils down to goaltending. Pittsburgh’s downfall was a predictable result — and perhaps inevitable — when dealing with the talent differences on both ends of the ice.
Speaking of goaltending, after game one the Penguins got below-expectations goaltending in every single game. Louis Domingue played like one would expect Louis Domingue to.
Shesterkin wasn’t always his MVP-calibre self, but he got the job done in the elimination games. pic.twitter.com/IqkORorrjC
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 16, 2022
Jarry’s Game 7 is probably too unforgiving for GSAA — which doesn’t know that Mike Matheson was pulling his best Jack Johnson impression and deflecting a goal from outside into his own net. Jarry battled and probably played when he shouldn’t have in Game 7, and was worse for wear after it.
Jarry slowly limped out after his media availability. He had given his all, earned some respect and gratitude for even trying to play and leaving it all out on the ice, even if he still came up short. Had Pittsburgh did win Game 7, with a hobbled goalie and other issues, who knows how much they would have had to stand up against the division champion Carolina Hurricanes in the second round anyways. Ultimately the beat up team puttered out early. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or willingness to lay it on the line. But like Guentzel said it just didn’t go their way.