Penguins need a break

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to breathe for a day or two before their next Stanley Cup playoff series starts.

They need that break.

Dispatching the Columbus Blue Jackets was more difficult than it should have been. Not only did the series take six games, all but one of the games was decided by one goal.

Sidney Crosby didn’t score a goal, the second playoff series in which he’s been shut out. That’s a concern, but a bigger issue is the Penguins’ inability to protect leads.

They should have cruised comfortably in Game 6 after building a 4-0 lead, but they saw Columbus score three goals in the third period and make it a tense ending.

It was a recurring theme in the series, and it’s troubling. Future opponents will have more firepower than the modestly-talented Blue Jackets, and it’s important that the Penguins learn how to preserve a lead.

They’re advancing, and that’s what matters. But it was a shaky performance.

You’re gone

The NBA threw the book at Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racially-inflammatory remarks.

He’s been banned for life, fined the maximum possible under NBA bylaws, and the league will do everything possible to make him sell the franchise.

Somewhere, someone is undoubtedly claiming that Sterling has the right to free speech.

He certainly does. Free speech refers to any restrictions to expression placed by the government.

You can say whatever you want, but you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

If you work in a fast-food hamburger place, you have the right to tell every customer, “Why don’t you go home and eat something healthier? A lot of this food isn’t good for you or your kids.”

Of course, the restaurant has every right to terminate your employment because your speech is bad for business.

That’s essentially what the NBA has done. Sterling had the right to say what he did. The NBA has the right to get Sterling out of its league.

Moving up

It’s been a big week for former Penguins center Ron Francis, who was named GM of the Carolina Hurricanes.

He succeeds another former Penguins player, Jim Rutherford.

It was just a matter of time until Francis got this kind of opportunity. He was always thinking as a player, and was always among the most responsible individuals, too.

Since retiring as a player, he’s gained experience as a coach and assistant GM. Now he gets to run a team, and he’s in pretty good circumstances. The Hurricanes have been underachieving for their talent level, and Francis has to find a way to fix that.

Bet that he will.

Mehno can be reached at