The Pittsburgh Penguins saw their season come to an end on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs against the New York Islanders, losing by a score of 5-3.
For the Penguins, it was a familiar ending to the series and problems that have dogged them all along. Despite jumping out to leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, Pittsburgh saw it given all away by subpar goaltending from Tristan Jarry.
The coup de grace for the game, series and season turned out to be in the second period. After the Penguins took a 3-2 lead following a Jason Zucker goal, Jarry surrendered three goals in a stretch of 2:59 to Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock and Nelson a second time. All were stoppable shots in the playoffs for an NHL goalie. All ended up in the net. And just like that, a team clinging to a lead found themselves buried in a two goal hole against a solid defensive team.
Mike Sullivan used his time out at that point, but it was too late. Sullivan also kept Jarry in the game. With backup Casey DeSmith injured, the alternative was Maxime Lagace, a mostly career minor-league goalie with just 18 NHL games to his name and a 3.68 goals against average and .876 save%, not much of an option at all, even with his starter’s extreme struggles.
A team is usually going to go as far as their goalie will take them, and Jarry could take the Penguins no further with his play shaking apart as the minutes and games dragged along.
On the other end, Ilya Sorokin wasn’t unbeatable, but far more steady. Pittsburgh had one last gasp effort down 5-3 to start the third period on the power play, but Sidney Crosby’s shot went off the post and away from the net. From there, any hopes to initiate a comeback melted away quickly with the clock.
Unlike the past two playoff eliminations in the past two seasons — to these Islanders in 2019 and to Montreal last summer — the Penguins’ can at least be proud of their effort down to the stretch. Other years they limped away quietly, today they at least played hard to the buzzer.
Perhaps no one exhibited this more than Zucker. After missing practice yesterday with a minor issue, Zucker was hobbled twice in this game blocking shots. In between he scored a goal and drilled an Islander with a massive, clean body check. Zucker had to be helped off the ice to the locker-room in the second period. He was back to play in the third.
Following this defeat, for the Penguins a summer of tough decisions awaits. It will be a summer that sees Crosby celebrate his 34th birthday, and Evgeni Malkin tick up to 35 years old. They only have so many bites at the apple still left, and it’s the same challenge for a new general manager to determine how to surround their team to compliment their stars.
As of now, they fall way short with troubles at times in the series generating enough offense on Sorokin, defending the counter-attack of the Islanders and dealing with some meltdowns in net that were flat out uncomfortable to watch Jarry sink right before their very eyes.
In the end, the biggest difference in the series shone through with the difference in quality of play in net. Try as they all may, the Penguins just could not get enough answers to keep their season alive.