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The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (L) chats with Penguins' General Manager Ray Shero during the "morning skate" in preparation for his return to action Monday night against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 21, 2011. REUTERS/David DeNoma

David DeNoma/Reuters

Ray Shero had a perfectly sensible reaction to the Pittsburgh Penguins getting bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Penguins general manager met with the media Tuesday for the first time since they were eliminated Sunday by their cross-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, and essentially said, hey, stuff happens. Considering the cries of blow it up or full-page newspaper advertisements of apology that often accompany failure in the NHL these days, it was a nice change.

Shero noted there are problems with his team's defensive game ("Over six games [in the playoffs]and in the last 11 games of the regular season it failed us.") but he is not about to embark on a massive rebuilding effort. He pointed out much of the same group won the 2009 Stanley Cup and even though the Penguins have now gone three years without getting to the Eastern Conference final he still believes in them.

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"Our leadership, our character, those intangibles, we've got a real strong leadership group," Shero said. "We missed on a really good opportunity for this hockey club. We proved in the past we can get to a Stanley Cup final with this group. It's really hard to figure these things out."

But one place to start, Shero indicated, is looking at who beat you and who finished on top of the Eastern Conference. He noted the Flyers gave the Penguins trouble all season but the Penguins never had much trouble with the New York Rangers, who finished first in the east and are still playing, although the No. 8 seed Ottawa Senators are giving them fits.

In other words, the best teams in the Eastern Conference were evenly matched and it wasn't the Penguins' year. Aside from Sidney Crosby's well-documented troubles, the Penguins lost defenceman Paul Martin in Game 3 when he was concussed by Flyer forward Brayden Schenn. Also, forwards Steve Sullivan (foot), James Neal (thumb) and defencemen Matt Niskanen (shoulder) and Kris Letang (hip) all had to have injections of pain-killers to play.

"Two years in a row we did this to [the Flyers]and I know how they felt," Shero said. "This is a group that is at the right age. The core of this team won their Cup and did it at a young age. Now they're turning 24, 25, 26 years old.

"This league is tough. It's a school of hard knocks and we'll see if we can bounce back."

What caused reporters' ears to perk up the most came when Shero was asked about keeping his three star centres in the long-term. Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal each have one more season left on their contracts before they become unrestricted free agents in 2013, while Evgeni Malkin's deal ends on July 1, 2014.

Shero said he plans to talk to Crosby and Staal in a month or so and hopes to keep them both. But he stopped short of saying he will be able to keep all three. The incoming collective agreement will be the final word on that.

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"As with anything, we have to take a look over the next couple months and see exactly where we are," Shero said. "Maybe in the next couple months we'll have a [new collective agreement]and we'll know what we're doing.

"That's a model that's worked in the past [three star centres] Whether it works in the future, we'll have to wait and see."

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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