Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The setup begins with two good-to-great centers, a tremendous lack of bottom-six depth, subpar defense, and uncertain goaltending. The punchline: star players taking the brunt of the blame, a young coach who’s likely to lose his job, and five years of failure.

But, for once, this story doesn’t feature the Carolina Hurricanes. Rather, it involves the team they aspire to be.

Despite rolling through the regular season, suffering heavy casualties along the way, the Pittsburgh Penguins again came up short when it mattered, falling 2-1 in Game 7 to the New York Rangers and blowing a 3-1 series lead in the process.

Even before Brad Richards’ game-winning powerplay goal audibly hit the net behind Marc-Andre Fleury in the second period, the crowd at Consol Energy Center seemed resigned to their fate. It didn’t seem to matter that the Rangers had previously been 5 for 53 on the man-advantage, or that they had never in their history successfully come back from such a deficit in a series. Brian Boyle opened the scoring just 5:25 into the first period, and the rest of the way, silence and boos dominated more often than not.

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins haven’t made it back to the Finals. They haven’t even won a Conference Finals game. Two first round exits, a pair of losses in Game 7 to the Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, and last year’s offensive meltdown against the Boston Bruins highlight their last few seasons.

Sure, several struggling franchises would take that “lack of success” in a heartbeat, but there becomes a point when you’re left wanting more.

Though they piled up points, many analysts believed the Penguins were paper tigers, and ripe for an upset. Columbus gave them a scare in the first round, but the Rangers matched up even better in the second, eventually finishing the job. Had Pittsburgh squeaked by, it seemed unlikely they would get revenge on the Bruins, or stop the surging Canadiens.

The Penguins were a flawed team. Possession-wise, they controlled play barely more than 50 percent of the time. While they kicked it up a notch in the playoffs, Fleury was still facing entirely too many shots and scoring chances. He posted a respectable .915 save percentage, well above his postseason career average of .905, but even that wasn’t good enough.

And for all the criticism they have and will receive, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still combined for 23 points in 13 games. Jussi Jokinen and Brandon Sutter also played well, but then the scoring starts to taper off.

James Neal had just 4 points to go along with his 24 penalty minutes and countless questionable hits. Deadline acquisition Lee Stempniak had 3 points and was a minus 4. Brian Gibbons played well for a game or two, but was rewarded with a little too much time next to Crosby for a career AHLer. A whole bunch of nobodies filled out the rest of their depth chart.

Dan Bylsma isn’t a good or bad coach — he’s average — but he isn’t a magician.

The Penguins are what the Hurricanes could be if everything went right, and the Staals are certainly not Crosby and Malkin. Gibbons, also known as Patrick Dwyer, doesn’t belong in the top six, and if their goaltender isn’t playing at the top of his game, they aren’t going to go very far.

With just 3 goals in their final 3 games against New York, haunting memories of their two-goal series against Boston were brought back. But when they could score, Fleury let them down. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

If Blysma takes the fall, he’ll be a hot candidate for teams that are still looking to fill coaching vacancies, including the Hurricanes. But if he can’t produce consistent results with a better version of the same team, why would he succeed in Carolina?

The Penguins are proof that you can’t simply ride the NHL’s two best players to a championship. Even during their one win, it took 67 points between Crosby and Malkin, Fleury’s stellar playoff performance, and 24 games. But without depth scoring, they never would have gotten past the Washington Capitals.

In the wake of another disappointing exit, many will call for sweeping changes to be made, from general manager Ray Shero down to Evgeni Malkin. But the Penguins aren’t far off; they just need a few tweaks.

About The Author

Andrew Luistro graduated from Appalachian State University. An avid sports fan, he began beat writing for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal, part of The Hockey Writers Network, with a focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. Andrew also actively follows the Boston Red Sox and Carolina Panthers, among other teams. Follow him on Twitter @ndrewL7

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