by: Rob Rossi, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - The Penguins are finished.
Maybe not just for the season, either.
A 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night completed one of the most disappointing ends to any postseason in franchise history, and that is saying something given these last five years.
The Penguins blew a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, scoring just three goals in the final three contests and losing three of four overall at Consol Energy Center.
The Rangers, who played a ninth game in 15 days, will face Boston or Montreal in the Eastern Conference final.
The Penguins will awake to what promises to be several uncomfortable days — and probably weeks — after losing to a lower-seeded opponent for a fifth consecutive postseason since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.
“There's always questions, and when expectations are high and you don't win, that's normal,” captain Sidney Crosby said after finishing the postseason with one goal in 13 games. “I'm sure there will be a lot of questions.”
Those questions already were being asked by majority co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle and CEO David Morehouse.
Penguins ownership will consider a sweeping overhaul that could include terminating general manager Ray Shero in addition to Dan Bylsma and the members of the coaching staff, multiple sources told the Tribune-Review. Ownership specifically is concerned about a perceived lack of accountability for players, overall team toughness and unproductive drafts, the sources said.
The sources also said Penguins ownership might not want to undergo a complete front-office shakeup with only about a month before the NHL Entry Draft.
No decisions have been made, and they will not be rushed, the sources said.
Shero and Bylsma have two years remaining on their contracts. Shero signed Bylsma and top assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden to extensions a few days after the Penguins were swept from the conference final by Boston last June.
Within a month, Shero also signed center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang to eight-year extensions, re-signed wingers Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, and added defenseman Rob Scuderi in free agency — all on multiyear deals.
The Penguins have played 27 home playoff games — each worth about $2 million to the team — since Consol Energy Center opened. However, the Penguins have won only 13 of those contests.
Since winning the Cup in 2009, the Penguins twice have blown a 3-1 series lead, lost three home Game 7s and dropped Games 1 and 2 of a series at home twice.
Winners of a combined two regular-season MVPs and four scoring titles, Crosby (four) and Malkin (seven) have struggled to score goals in the past four series they have played that the Penguins have lost. That is 11 combined goals in 24 games against Montreal (2010), Philadelphia (2012), Boston (2013) and New York (2014).
“It's rough right now,” said Malkin, who finished with six playoff goals but, like Crosby, failed to score after Game 5 against the Rangers. “But we'll see (about) next season.”
Crosby and Malkin hold full no-trade clauses, and they will combine to take up about 27 percent of the Penguins' projected salary cap next season.
They will be back, but the faces around them could be different. That includes their bosses.
Shero was honored as the NHL's General Manager of the Year for his work during the 2013 season. He was hired in May 2006. Bylsma, the 2011 Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL's top coach, was hired in February 2009. The Penguins went 18-3-4 under Bylsma to close that regular season then raced to four series wins to claim the Cup.
They since have lost five of nine playoff series and have failed to play for the Cup.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” Bylsma said. “We haven't done that in five seasons. I haven't contemplated what the price is going to be or anything toward the future yet.”
(Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.)