Despite arguably the most talented roster in the NHL, it was yet another disappointing end for the Pittsburgh Penguins. While the scoring dried up for the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins, there is a bigger underlying problem for the Penguins: toughness.
When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, they had a perfect blend of high-end skill and grit, as they edged the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to claim the Cup. Physical forces like Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Max Talbot and Bill Guerin played a physical style to compliment the finesse play of stars like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
However, since then, the Penguins have won just three playoff series in the last four postseasons combined; a big reason for that is that the Penguins aren’t built for the rugged style of play that happens in the postseason.
Last season, the Philadelphia Flyers were in the face of the Penguins’ players throughout their first-round battle. The more physical the Flyers got, the more the Penguins were thrown off their game. Ultimately, the Penguins would lose the first-round series, as the physical style of play of the Flyers served as a blueprint to defeat the talent-laden Penguins.
After being relatively unchallenged physically in the first two rounds, the Penguins ran into the Bruins, one of the toughest teams in the NHL. After just one game against the nasty Bruins, the Penguins were already thrown off their game. In a temporary moment of insanity, Crosby got himself tangled up with big bad Zdeno Chara. Malkin’s frustration manifested when he attacked Patrice Bergeron, as the two fought at the end of the game with the Bruins comfortably leading.
After just one game against the Bruins, the Penguins had already lost their composure, and they never recovered it. They were thrashed 6-1 in Game 2 and were held to one goal in the final two games of the series, as they were swept out of the playoffs despite being the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, the scoring completely evaporated despite a roster including the likes of Crosby, Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla. The thought that Crosby, Malkin and Neal would all go pointless in the series against Boston was unfathomable before the series started. Yes, the goaltending could’ve been more consistent, as Marc-Andre Fluery had another brutal postseason while veteran Tomas Vokoun battled admirably.
However, the big problem is that come playoff time, toughness, physicality and grit are all magnified. All the offensive skill in the world can’t overcome a lack of physical willpower, as is evident with the Penguins’ string of postseason failures.
While Crosby, Malkin and Neal are all in the prime of their respective careers, they aren’t getting any younger. If the Penguins can’t add a couple of gritty, hard-nosed players in the near future to go along with their offensive firepower, expect more disappointing playoff exits for the most talented offensive team in the league.
Follow James on Twitter @JT3sticks