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A brief look back at the Penguins’ recent postseasons

It’s been four years since the Pens have won a playoff series.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders - Game Six
Sidney Crosby prepares to shake hands with the New York Islanders after the Penguins’ elimination from the 2021 playoffs in Game 6 of the first round on May 26.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s the most wonderful (and the most terrible) time of the year.

The regular season is over, and it’s time for the Penguins’ sixteenth straight trip to the postseason.

In case you’ve forgotten— or forcibly pushed it out of your mind— here’s a rundown of how the playoffs have gone for Pittsburgh ever since Sidney Crosby lifted his third Stanley Cup on June 11, 2017.

2018: Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals

Games played: 12 (six to beat the Flyers, six to lose to the Capitals)

Round eliminated: 2

Postseason highlight: Almost exactly a year after his first career (and playoff) hat trick, Jake Guentzel records his second career (and playoff) hatty when he scores four times, including three unanswered goals in a span of under 13 minutes, to eliminate the Flyers during Game 6 of Round 1 in Philadelphia.

Postseason lowlight: John Walton, the Capitals’ radio announcer, proclaims “The demons have been exorcised!” after Evgeny Kuznetsov splits Pittsburgh’s defense five and a half minutes into overtime during Game 6 at PPG Paints Arena, then beats Matt Murray to end the Penguins’ chance of a championship three-peat.

Final notes from the team:

“As a defensive corps, our future is bright. We have a lot of guys coming back here next year. We are definitely going to take advantage of the long summer. We are going to use this time to become more fresh and be ready to go in September.” —Brian Dumoulin

“I have so much belief in this group of players, so when you fall short of your ultimate goal, it stings. I’m still not over that yet.” —Mike Sullivan

“It’s something we haven’t felt in a while. You wanna be playing still, but yeah, you have to evaluate everything and turn the page at some point and get ready for next year.” —Sidney Crosby

“I felt fine. I’m sure other guys felt fine. We felt we could have done it. We just ran into a pretty good team and couldn’t get the job done.” —Justin Schultz

2019: New York Islanders

Games played: 4 (swept!)

Round eliminated: 1

Series highlight: During Game 1 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Penguins are trailing the Islanders by one in the final minutes of regulation— until Justin Schultz scores with just one minute and 29 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

Series lowlight: With the Penguins’ season on the line at PPG Paints Arena, Jake Guentzel opens scoring just 35 seconds into Game 4— and the Penguins do not score again for the next 59 minutes. They lose, 3-1.

Final notes from the team:

“It’s disappointing to have this long of an offseason. It’s been a while since we’ve had this much time to really digest the year and have it in your mind. It’s going to be a long one; It’s going to be a long summer and be lots of time to look back and just think about this one. But at some point you got to move on and get ready for the next one, so that’s what I’ll try to do.” —Sidney Crosby

“We didn’t expect it to end like this or go out in four games.” —Phil Kessel

“Sometimes I make mistakes. I wish I could take those back. At the end of the day I wish I could have done something else at different times.” —Kris Letang

“I’m really thankful that I was able to enjoy playing here down the stretch because I felt as good as I felt in a long time, which is great. I think as you get older you just hope that you can feel good enough to allow yourself to play and be effective, and I was really happy with how my body felt. I was able to enjoy it and try to help the team and make a positive impact.” —Matt Cullen, who retired after this season

2020: Montreal Canadiens

Games played: 4 (not a sweep— this was a play-in round, and the Canadiens won the series 3-1)

Round eliminated: 1

Series highlight: Jason Zucker makes his first postseason goal in a Penguins uniform count during Game 2. His tally in the final six minutes of regulation ends up standing as the decider of a 3-1 win, allowing the Penguins to tie the qualifying series at 1-1.

Series lowlight: With the Penguins’ playoff chances on the line in Game 4, they are held off the scoreboard entirely. The host Canadiens match the Penguins in shots (22-22) but shut them out entirely, 2-0. The Penguins are not offered a ticket to the 2020 COVID-19 delayed bubble playoffs.

Final notes from the team:

“For such a significant portion of the season we felt really good about our team. It’s disappointing that we didn’t finish as strongly as we all would have hoped. We all have to take ownership for it.” —Mike Sullivan

“It’s a three out of five. Anything can happen. We did some good things. Did we do enough? No. Give them credit. They played really well. Got some big plays throughout the four games.” —Sidney Crosby

“We still believe in the core group of this team. We have a lot in the tank. We’re going to keep playing hard and give everything for the Penguins. We have to be better. This year we didn’t play good enough to win, but felt comfortable with the group of guys we had.” —Kris Letang

“We just thought we needed to change the dynamic of our coaching staff. We have very high standards here in Pittsburgh, and we want to continue competing for Stanley Cups. The message to our fans is that ‘We are not rebuilding, we’re re-tooling.’” —Jim Rutherford, after announcing he would not renew coaching contracts for Sergei Gonchar, Jacques Martin and Mark Recchi

2021: New York Islanders

Games played: 6

Round eliminated: 1

Series highlight: With the score tied and just four minutes remaining in regulation, it looked like Game 3 of the tied first round was going to overtime. That’s when Brandon Tanev scored a late go-ahead goal to earn the Penguins a 2-1 series lead in Long Island.

Series lowlight: The Penguins see some scoring chances in the first overtime. Then, 51 seconds into the second frame of extra time, a poorly-timed clearing attempt from Tristan Jarry goes directly to the Islanders’ Josh Bailey. The Penguins go down 3-2 in the series.

Final notes from the team:

“We were playing some pretty good hockey coming in. I’m gonna be honest with you, I thought we played some really good hockey for the most part. Couldn’t capitalize on some of our chances. Give them credit. They played a heck of a series as well.” —Jeff Carter

“It’s never a good feeling to lose. We felt good about our group and felt we could make a good run, so to have it come to a halt here is disappointing.” —Sidney Crosby

“We were very pleased with our coaching staff. ... It was a tough year. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges with COVID. Our entire staff, not just the players and the coaches, did a terrific job.” —Ron Hextall

2018-2021: In summation

Since winning back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins have played 26 playoff games (14 of which took place in 2018.)

In those 26 games, the Pens:

  • have a 9-17 record.
  • have allowed 79 goals against, and scored 74 goals for.
  • averaged 32.7 shots per contest, and allowed 28.8/game against.
  • recorded 32 hits per 60 minutes and 14.58 blocks/60. (For reference, over the four regular seasons during this span, the Penguins averaged 25.76 hits/60 and 13.58 blocks/60.)

It has been:

  • four years
  • 209 weeks
  • 1,470 days

since the Penguins last won a playoff series.

Will this streak end against the New York Rangers?