Don’t Cry Because It's Over, Smile Because It Happened

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There was no conceivable way to write anything in the hours after the Penguins’ game seven overtime heartbreak against the New York Rangers on Sunday evening. As an actual journalistic reporter, they’re viewing it as a job. They have no affiliation or dog in the race. They root for athletes, not teams.

I get the pleasure to write these stories from a fans' view so I get to show emotion just like all of you and I get to do it in more than 280 characters.

Normally, a Pens playoff loss is accompanied by a few hours of sadness knowing your team probably could’ve gotten the job done but just couldn’t do it. This one, however, is completely different.

When the game winning goal got passed a screened Tristan Jarry and the AT&T Sportsnet cameras immediately cut to the Rangers bench celebrating and cheering their overtime, series-clinching goal, I sat numb.

I was motionless for a solid five minutes, all through the ensuing commercial breaks. I couldn’t bring myself to move. The Penguins had blown a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers. In the three elimination games, Pittsburgh blew leads of two goals in Games 5 and 6, and then blew a one goal lead with about seven minutes left in the 3rd period of Game 7.

That was painful enough. But it was way more than that in the moment.

All the talk has been, and will be, about the core three of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang potentially playing their final game together as members of the Pittsburgh Penguins. When the puck went across the goal line and Madison Square Garden erupted, I sat in my chair in my room motionless as an entire 16 years of Penguins hockey and the longest standing core of players in hockey history had seemingly evaporated like that.

It sucks. But upon waking up this morning, instead of sadness, I chose gratitude.

We here in Pittsburgh have been lucky. Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers for a decade-plus to playoff appearance after playoff appearance. The Steelers had always been relevant under his watch. As for the Penguins, Crosby, Malkin, and Letang never missed the playoffs together. How impressive is that?

Even when the Penguins were without any of the three for extended periods of time - Crosby’s concussions, Malkin’s ACL tears, Letang’s stroke - the Penguins battled through and still found a way to make it to the dance and give themselves a chance to win Lord Stanley. They accomplished this feat together three times and could easily be considered the greatest franchise to this point of the salary cap era.

It’s legitimately impressive.

I can’t express enough how awesome it’s been to watch these guys win together for 16 years. There’s no guarantee it’s the end, but Malkin and Letang’s unrestricted free agent status suggest that it’s quite possible that it is.

Letang is going to get paid handsomely by another team if he so chooses to the point the Penguins won’t be able to offer the money he’ll command without hamstringing themselves with the salary cap. Malkin has expressed a desire to stay for less money but will that hold true when he sees the even lesser amount the Penguins probably should pay him after a season where it could be argued he’s declining?

The Penguins will have approximately $28 million in cap space to spread out this summer. They also have pieces such as Bryan Rust, Danton Heinen, Evan Rodrigues, Kasperi Kapanen, and Casey DeSmith to decide if they want to re-sign. It’ll be an interesting offseason and there will be plenty on this forum as we get closer to then.  We also have no idea how the Penguins new ownership will operate in a time when the franchise has major decisions to make.

For now, take a moment and appreciate all we’ve seen the Penguins do for the last 16 years. It’s been impressive despite losing in the first round for four consecutive seasons which is ultimately acceptable when that follows back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

Give it up for Jake Guentzel

Man, are we watching Guentzel become a superstar before our very eyes or what?

This guy did nothing but score in almost every single game this series. Eight goals in seven games is an awesome feat. The Guentzel-Crosby-Rust line was on another level this series and carried that momentum from the end of the regular season.

I can’t help but think what Guentzel could’ve done if the Penguins had gotten by New York and continued their playoff run. Would Guentzel have been the first to score 20 and broken Reggie Leach’s all time record of 19 in a singular playoff season?

Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin hold the modern day record with 15 a piece, a figure Guentzel likely would’ve come very close to eclipsing.

The Penguins have two more seasons of Guentzel at a steal of a cap hit at $6 million per year before he becomes a UFA after his age 29 season, where he can cash in yet again for even more money.

Good for him.

Props to Tristan Jarry

Pittsburgh’s goaltender was in a hell of a situation. He found himself thrust into a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden for what would be a 60-minute dog fight - then there was overtime - behind a team reeling from losing a 3-1 series lead.

Essentially, a lonely city turned it’s eyes to Jarry after watching Louis Domingue ruin all the good will he'd built up.

You can’t pin this loss on Jarry. He did what he could and his postgame appearance at the podium told the story. He walked in with a limp and had an ice pack wrapped around his foot/ankle. He battled like a warrior despite clearly not being 100%.

Jarry made some really big saves too. The Penguins couldn’t have asked him to do much more. The only goal I didn’t love was Zibanejad’s game-tying goal in the 3rd period.

Jarry was very deep in his net but he also was protecting against the play that was behind his net before the puck found its way in front onto Zibanejad’s stick. Zibanejad riffled a shot high over Jarry’s glove - a spot the Rangers tried to pick at all night - and scored.

Many of Jarry’s detractors will look at his .867 save percentage from Sunday night that brought his career playoff percentage down to a pedestrian .891 and base his performance solely off of that. But the numbers don’t tell the story.

He gave the Penguins a chance to win.

I don’t want to go too in depth reviewing this game because it is the end. There are no more games to look forward too so going in depth and breaking down what the Penguins need to do better is rather pointless.

I will say I’ve enjoyed every bit of covering the Penguins for Gold Lot Sports this year and am excited to start diving into the offseason which I will have plenty of coverage for over the next few weeks including player grades, offseason predictions, columns, news, and more.

I leave you with another reminder that these last 16 years of Penguins hockey have been special. This is an important offseason for the future of the franchise and some tough decisions will have to be made. Let’s all just be thankful we got to watch as much winning hockey as we have.

Thank you to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang for everything.