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I'm So Confused!

Will the real Pittsburgh Penguins please stand up?

[ Google "Vinnie Barbarino", kids ]

I had it all planned out.

After watching our Penguins eliminate the lowly Rangers on Friday night, I had fully planned to sit down this morning and heap all kinds of deservedly complimentary praise upon this group.

They were playing a wonderful brand of collective shutdown defensive hockey, frustrating the hell out of the "superstars" on the Rangers.  Marc Andre-Fleury was not only matching the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist save for save, but was clearly outplaying him.  Lundqvist himself would most likely freely admit that a couple of the goals he allowed were quite soff.

But instead, as has been the case in seven of Dan Bylsma's eight opportunities to eliminate a playoff opponent at home, the Penguins laid one huge egg in Game Five at Consol.  And it didn't take long to notice that.

Everyone knew the Rangers were going to come out flying with a sense of desperation, especially with the news of the tragic passing of Martin St. Louis' mother on Thursday.  So it wasn't surprising to see the Rangers collectively battling hard and eventually winning possession for loose pucks.

The problem for the Penguins was that they had no answer for the Rangers' desperation.  Moreover, they didn't even put forth much of an effort.  Just a whole lot of floating, lackadaisical effort on loose pucks, and way too much overpassing in the offensive zone.  And yes, Fleury gave up some poor goals.  Soft?  Yeah, I'd have to say at least one goal was.

Look, it's not that the Penguins lost.  Teams make the playoffs because they're good teams.  If the Penguins and the Rangers would have battled in a hard-fought game in which the Rangers squeaked out a 4-3 win, that would have been one thing.  Tap your stick, congratulate them on their win, and get ready for Game Six at MSG.

But these Jekyll and Hyde Penguin performances continue to be maddening.  As I mentioned on Twitter last night, that 1-7 statistic for home playoff elimination opportunities under the Bylsma regime speaks volumes.  Over the years, I've always been a huge believer in the psychological aspects of sports.  Is it fair to blame the Head Coach if the players are not mentally prepared?  Entirely, I would objectively say no.  But partially, you bet your ass.  However, I also lay blame at all of these supposed "leaders" I keep hearing about.  There are quite a few examples already available just in the playoffs alone to demonstrate this lackadaisical level of play by the Penguins, but for whatever reason, they just don't seem to learn enough to make that performance a rarity, rather than a semi-regular one.

So it's back to MSG, where you can be sure that the Rangers faithful, with this renewed sense of momentum, will be out in full force.  The Rangers themselves will surely match that momentum on the ice.  The question of the day is now what Penguins team will come out Sunday night.

Will it be the magnificent group of skaters who performed nearly flawlessly in Games Three and Four in New York?  Or will it be yet another ho-hum performance.

Of course, if it's the latter, that will result in another Game Seven at home for your Pittsburgh Penguins.

And honestly, I don't even want to think about that.