A loss in the conference final to this Boston Bruins team would be nothing to be ashamed about; it's how the Penguins dug the hole early in the series that has questions rising about Bylsma's future with the team.
"I'm not coaching -- I don't coach, have never coached for my job," Bylsma said Thursday. "When I took over as coach of this hockey team in '09, I came here to win hockey games, and that's where we're at right now. We know what's in front of us. We know exactly what's in front of us with the odds being down 0-3, but I believe in that group, I believe in that team, I believe in how we battled and how we're going to battle, and we're going to go in knowing we have an elimination game and win Game 4."
Pittsburgh has reeled off three straight 100-point seasons under Bylsma (you can make it four if you want to include the shortened 2013 campaign that saw the Penguins finish with 72 points in 48 games.) Like Marc-Andre Fleury, the regular season success is there, with a Cup ring to boast about; but the playoffs, as we know, have been an entirely different story.
Bylsma, the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 regular-season wins, is signed through next season.
He has not been told if his job is on the line should the Penguins bow Friday or anytime before a return to the Cup Final.
General manager Ray Shero declined comment.
Shero will make the final call on personnel decisions, a representative for ownership said Thursday.
The immediate fan reaction to the way the Bruins series has developed -- and most of this postseason for the Penguins -- is to fire Bylsma and trade Fleury and Kris Letang. Basically, drastic, reactionary changes to a team that is built to lift Stanley Cups every June. But that's not Shero's style. He's never been one to make knee-jerk decisions. Every move is a calculated one, weighing the pros and cons heavily.
In March, Shero sensed an opportunity for his team and went all in for another Cup acquiring Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow, even as the Penguins went 15-0 in the season's final full month. He added pieces to a team that was already considered a Cup contender. The chips were pushed to the middle of the table and this was no bluff.
Instead of a Cup, however, it's looking like another bust for the Penguins. If the Bruins do finish the job, it will be an interesting summer in Pittsburgh. There will be seven unrestricted free agents, including Pascal Dupuis and Jarome Iginla, and three restricted free agents to make decisions on; not to mention Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin entering the final year of their deals.
Would firing Bylsma and bringing in a new coach with a new system elicit a different result come next spring? There's no guarantee there. You know what you have in Bylsma. But instead of wholesale coaching changes, Shero could just put some heat under his head coach, in a "win now or else" move, by shaking up the coaching staff. That's what the Chicago Blackhawks did last off-season with Mike Haviland after a disappointing first round loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Joel Quenneville, his staff and the team responded as the results on the ice continue to show.
It's not a situation of the Penguins players tuning out their head coach like what happened in New York with the Rangers and John Tortorella. The top players haven't shown up against the Bruins and mental mistakes and breakdowns in their own end have cost them dearly.
Is some of that on coaching? Definitely. But it's not a matter of changing the voice, it's a matter of changing the approach.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy
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