PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and the Pittsburgh Penguins have been an NHL playoff fixture for the higher a part of twenty years.
It’s a run that’s produced three Stanley Cups, a close to miss at one other and sure fast-tracked all three franchise icons to the Corridor of Fame.
And now, it might lastly be over.
Buddy Robinson and Andres Athanasiou scored 26 seconds aside within the third interval and the lowly Chicago Blackhawks dealt the Penguins’ playoff possibilities a major blow in a 5-2 win on Tuesday night time.
Pittsburgh started the night time needing wins in its final two video games over Chicago and Columbus to increase the longest lively playoff streak in main North American skilled sports activities to 17 years.
As an alternative, Petr Mrazek made 38 saves, Robinson scored simply the fourth purpose of his nomadic profession to provide Chicago a late lead and Pittsburgh finds itself on the skin of the playoffs trying in with only one sport to go.
The Florida Panthers clinched one of many two wild-card spots within the Japanese Convention following losses by Buffalo and Pittsburgh. The New York Islanders can remove the Penguins with a win or an additional time loss towards Montreal on Wednesday.
It’s not what Malkin and Letang had in thoughts after they signed prolonged extensions final summer season to maintain one of the vital profitable trios in fashionable NHL historical past collectively.
Six months of wildly erratic play crystallized over 60 minutes towards a staff that had gained simply as soon as since St. Patrick’s Day and whose concept of success over the subsequent few months is profitable the league’s draft lottery.
“You knew it was going to return all the way down to the final sport or two and we bought a chance tonight to regulate our personal future and it didn’t work out,” Crosby mentioned.
Malkin’s twenty seventh purpose of the season 5:28 into the third interval tied the sport at 1 and appeared to swing momentum closely towards the Penguins.
As an alternative, the Blackhawks, who’re hoping to land the No. 1 decide within the draft and the prospect to pick Connor Bedard, responded by scoring 4 occasions within the final 10 minutes.
Robinson corralled a bouncing puck within the slot and knuckled it by Tristan Jarry to place Chicago up 2-1 with 9:38 remaining. Athanasiou discovered himself behind the Pittsburgh internet moments later and flicked a shot at Jarry that someway bounced off the goaltender and finally made its means throughout the purpose line.
Connor Murphy, Tyler Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle additionally scored for Chicago.
“We knew (the Penguins) have been combating for a spot,” Athanasiou mentioned. “It offers numerous guys on this room a chance to return in and be somewhat little bit of a heartbreaker. That labored out tonight for us.”
Danton Heinen added a late purpose for Pittsburgh. Jarry stopped 22 photographs for the Penguins, who’re often prepping for the playoffs within the closing days of the common season.
Solely as soon as throughout a streak that dates to 2007 have they arrive this near lacking the postseason. Pittsburgh wanted a 2-0 win over Buffalo in 82nd and closing sport of the 2014-15 season to qualify.
That season ended with a fast first-round loss to the New York Rangers. By that December, then-head coach Mike Johnston was fired and changed by Mike Sullivan. A pair of Stanley Cups quickly adopted, however the final half-decade has seen the Penguins enduring diminishing returns.
Pittsburgh hasn’t gained a playoff sequence since 2018. This yr, they may not even get the prospect. Save for a 14-2-1 stretch from early November to mid-December, the Penguins have been decidedly common.
Three wins in 4 video games — together with Crosby reaching the 1,500-point milestone in Detroit over the weekend — bolstered their confidence and their prospects.
Now, each could also be gone.
Pittsburgh dominated play for lengthy stretches towards the Blackhawks solely to have Mrazek — enduring the worst season of his 11-year profession — get a pad, paddle or glove in the best way.
Nonetheless, when Malkin tied the sport early within the third interval and unleashed a guttural roar, the Penguins appeared poised to take management.
As an alternative, Robinson scored for simply the sixth time in a 61-game NHL profession that dates to 2015 and consists of 4 completely different groups. Athanasiou adopted shortly thereafter and Pittsburgh was reeling.
“I believe within the third (interval) we bought pissed off and form of imploded, giving up possibilities and stuff,” Letang mentioned. “It’s a troublesome one to swallow.”
Not lengthy after the horn sounded, the Penguins participated in a “shirt off their backs” ceremony as a part of Fan Appreciation Night time. Normally, the occasion is a prelude to the playoffs.
Not in 2023, with their streak hanging by the thinnest of threads.
“It’s not over,” Malkin mentioned. “We hope. Nevertheless it’s exhausting to say something proper now.”
Blackhawks: End up their third straight dropping season on Thursday towards Philadephia.
Penguins: Can solely hope their finale in Columbus on Thursday carries that means within the standings.