After the spring flameout against the Canadiens in the second round in 2010, when the 2010-11 season came around the following year, it kinda felt like, “Okay, no more messing around, let’s get back to doing what we did in 2008 and 2009.” The hockey gods had other ideas, however. Before we get to the 2011 postseason, we need to discuss to regular season a bit.
The Penguins saw key Stanley Cup pieces such as Sergei Gonchar and Mark Eaton depart via free agency, to be replaced by Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Ray Shero would make another big trade — acquiring James Neal and Matt Niskanen in exchange for Alex Goligoski.
We said goodbye to the Mellon Arena.
We opened Consol Energy Center (with a loss to the Flyers, but whatever).
The team would hit the ground running, putting together a 12-game winning streak in November, leading into December.
Sidney Crosby was putting together a potential season for the record books. He had a 25-game point streak leading into the Winter Classic. 32 goals and 34 assists in 41 games.
With the flip of a switch, Crosby seemed to reinvent his game from being a playmaker and an elite passer to a pure goal scorer. It was fascinating to see that ‘change’ overnight.
The Winter Classic
Oh the Winter Classic. It was supposed to be a special night. It was supposed to be a perfect night. It was supposed to be a classic night. It ended up being everything but that. The only classic thing about that night was that it was classic bullshit.
Miserable rain and sloppy ice. A win by the Capitals. Sidney Crosby wrecked by David Steckel.
Crosby would come back and play a game against the Lightning, would be hit into the end boards by Victor Hedman on a non-violent finishing of a check, and just like that, Crosby’s dream season was over. Little did we know at the time that it would keep Crosby sidelined for quite some time.
It was bad enough knowing that Crosby’s health and return were completely up in the air, as it is with concussions. It got much worse for the Penguins when Evgeni Malkin’s season was ended in an awkward collision with Tyler Myers, playing for the Sabres at the time.
I literally remember exactly where I was the morning after this, when I found out that his season was over. Talk about being frozen by the news.
Nonsense at Nassau
It would feel remiss to mention this disaster of a regular season without including this. No commentary from me.
Just let the video speak for itself.
The Penguins somehow made their way to the postseason. I’m still not sure how — given the lack of Crosby and Malkin for almost 3 & 1⁄2 months. But they did make it.
The draw: The Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t think anyone had massive expectations of anything in terms of major success, given the circumstances. The Penguins acquired Alexei Kovalev at the deadline, and he had a peak Kovalev moment in Game 1 of this series.
The Pens would take a hold on the series in Tampa Bay when the heavily snakebitten James Neal broke a 2OT tie in Game 4 of the series, giving the Pens a 3-1 lead.
It’s easy to go from having no expectations to have some decently heavy ones when you take a 3-1 series lead, right?
The Penguins would lose Game 5 by a score of 8-2. Woof.
Game 6, back in Tampa, where the Pens won both Game 3 and Game 4........and no luck. My collar is getting tighter.
No one is thinking back about Game 7 a year ago, right? RIGHT? This Game 7 would go much differently, but the same result.
Sean Bergenheim and that damn play behind the net. It would be the only goal scored in the game, and that’s it.
The nightmare of a season was over. Having lowered expectations to start the playoffs disappeared when the Pens took a 3-1 lead and THEY BLEW A 3-1 LEAD.
Surely the playoffs in 2012 would go better...................