Pens will pay price for another failure

He faced 26 shots over the final two periods and was a rock in denying James Neal, Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen multiple times.

The Penguins worked hard, did many things right and pushed the pace. But in the end, no hero stepped forward to push them past the Rangers.

And now the question is how steep is the price for that failure?

A year ago, general manager Ray Shero held firm in the wake of a four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins during which the Pens managed to score just twice. Dan Bylsma returned for his fifth full season as head coach. Netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was not jettisoned. Neither was Kris Letang, who was given a monster contract extension.

This time it's hard to imagine such patience will be shown.

Fair or not, it's hard to imagine any more patience being shown to Bylsma. Not after his team failed to close out a Rangers team that appeared to be teetering on the edge after Game 4 when they managed just 15 shots on net.

Instead of delivering the knockout blow that the great teams always deliver, the Penguins started slow in each of the three potential elimination games. While they were much more engaged early in Game 7, the fact is they never made the Rangers pay.

Bylsma was asked what he thought the price would be for this year's disappointment and the ones that preceded it the previous four springs.

"I'm 20 minutes post battling for Game 7 and right to the bitter end. I haven't contemplated price that's going to be or what that's going to be or anything towards the future yet," Bylsma said.

"When you win a Stanley Cup, you win Game 7s and move on. ... We had this opportunity and we didn't [win] and that's obviously difficult to deal with right now."

Later a reporter asked about whether Bylsma might take a moment to reflect on this evening "if the inevitable" were to transpire, and then realizing the slip reworded it to "if an unfortunate situation happens at some point."

Even Bylsma cracked a grin at that one, the notion that this could well be his final night in this building as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If a coaching change is made, our guess is that Bylsma will be unemployed a very short period of time what with coaching positions still waiting to be filled in Washington, Vancouver, Florida and Carolina.

And if anyone thinks simply installing Barry Trotz or John Stevens or anyone else behind the bench will guarantee a return to past glory with this core, they are sadly mistaken.

It's hard to imagine there won't be significant changes made to a roster that has gone from dynastic to ordinary in just five years.

Although Fleury couldn't be faulted on this night, his future with the team will also be in question.

As will that of Neal, who played better in the latter stages of Game 7 and finished with an assist and four shots on goal, but still managed only two goals in 13 games. He also took a mindless holding penalty to negate a Penguins power play in the first period with the team trailing 1-0.

"We didn't score at the big moments in big games and that falls on us and our top players. We just didn't get it done. That's the bottom line," Neal said.

"It's disappointing. We had a great team in here and a great opportunity to do good things and we just came up short; it's a missed opportunity."

And there's the rub.

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