Pittsburgh Penguins History: Revisiting 2001 Eastern Conference Finals

Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/ALLSPORT
Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario Lemieux. Mandatory Credit: Doug Pensinger/ALLSPORT /

When Mario Lemieux returned to the Pittsburgh Penguins after a three and a half year absence, one of his main goals was to secure a third Stanley Cup, let’s take a look back and see how close he came.

Here is how the Pittsburgh Penguins lost the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.

Not much rest

Game 1

The key story from Game 1 one of the series was not that the Penguins had such a short turn around between their Game 7 overtime match vs. the Sabres and their first game vs. the Devils, in fact less than 48 hours had passed.

The main plot was the play New Jersey center, Bobby Holik.

Holik brutalized Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens, Darius Kasparaitis, and kept Mario Lemieux from getting a single shot on net for just the third time in the playoffs.

The Devils took the game 3-1 and put themselves up in the series 1-0

Game 3

As effective as Holik had been for the Devils in Game 1, forward Jason Arnott was just as effective in Game 3.

Arnott shutdown Lemieux and with superb physicality from the Devils third and fourth lines, the Penguins just couldn’t get anything going.

Pittsburgh finished the game with 20 shots and did not generate any offense in the third period until the fourteen-minute mark, finishing the frame with four total shots.

Ivan Hlinka tried double shifting Lemieux and Jagr to maximize opportunities to get some pucks past Martin Brodeur, to no avail.

It is safe to say that the Devils executed the neutral zone trap to sheer perfection, as they earned a 3-0 win and 2-1 series lead.

Goals are the goal

Game 4

Game 4 brought much of the same frustration that Game 3 did for the Penguins as they ended up getting smoked 5-0.

The big question for Pittsburgh was, were the Devils playing that well or were the Penguins that poorly? I’d go with the latter.

Cracks were starting to show in the relationship between the reigning scoring champion Jagr and Ivan Hlinka and if the team wanted to rebound, they were going to have to find a way to reclaim some cohesiveness.

New Jersey took a 3-1 series lead and was one away from making to their second consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

Game 5

The Penguins finally found some offense near the end of the first period on a goal from Aleksey Morozov and broke Brodeur’s shutout streak of 151 minutes.

Sadly, the Penguins would only muster one more goal in the game and series from Martin Straka. Pittsburgh succumb to the Devils 4-2 and dropped the series 4-1.

The only good news from the game was that Straka’s goal was the ten-thousandth goal in team history.

The Devils “A’ line of Arnott, Petr Sykora, and Patrik Elias combined for 20 points in the series and were the crux for the Penguins problems.

Lemieux managed to earn three assists in the series and Jagr was held pointless. In fact, Jagr only scored two goals in 16 games.

Tough Decisions

Isn’t it Ironic?

When Lemieux walked away from the game in 1997, one of the reasons he cited for his retirement was that teams were using a trap system that stifled creative players from making plays, which was exactly what the Devils excelled at.

Following the Game 5 loss, Lemieux chased down John Madden, slashing and cross-checking him in the neck, which could have caused some lasting effects.

Lemieux became one of the things he despised the most about the game of hockey and all because Madden rubbed his nose in the series defeat.

Walking Wounded

Heading into the off-season, the Penguins had an infirmary full of players that needed medical attention.

Robert Lang had a host of injuries that needed time to heal and missed the final three games of the series.

Hans Jonsson broke his hand blocking a shot in Game 5 which required offseason surgery to repair.

Kevin Stevens had a torn medial collateral ligament, and Alex Kovalev required nose surgery to help him breathe.

Farwell thee well love

With the budget set for five years, Lemieux and the Penguins management had some tough decisions to make regarding the 15 free agents that were on the team.

Once the general manager, Craig Patrick resigned, Hlinka was given a vote of confidence by Patrick, which made Jagr’s departure from the club, essentially guaranteed.

Prior to the Washington Capitals trade, the Penguins had discussed sending Jagr to the New York Islanders for their second pick the NHL draft which would have given Pittsburgh the chance to select Jason Spezza.

The Penguins also had a keen interest in Zdeno Chara, which in hindsight would have proven to be a better deal (minus the cash) for the Penguins.

What do you think of the Pittsburgh Penguins performance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and do you think the Pittsburgh Penguins could have performed better if they had more rest?