Crosby out for tonight's playoff opener
Even as the Penguins cautioned that there was no change in center Sidney Crosby's status, his participation in an off-day practice Tuesday elevated hopes that he could return at some point during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Coach Dan Bylsma said that the lineup for their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Consol Energy Center will be a "game-time" decision, and reiterated that Crosby has not been cleared for contact portions of practice.
Crosby will not play tonight, the 42nd consecutive game he has missed since Jan. 5 while recovering from a concussion. His mind appears clearly focused on playing before next season and has since he first resumed individual workouts March 14.
"You know he wants to get back," winger Chris Kunitz said. "You see he's going out twice a day, trying to get out there. You don't want to put too much emphasis on it, but it's definitely nice to see him."
The Penguins enter the playoffs for the first time without Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin, who is out for the season after right knee surgery, and must prove that they can win without their top two postseason scorers. Crosby has 30 goals and 82 points and Malkin 29 goals and 73 points, and they have combined to account for 30.7 percent of the Penguins' playoff goals since 2007.
Though they teamed to lead the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final and the '09 Cup championship, their shortcomings in the seven-game series against Montreal last year magnified how much their scoring touch means to the team. Crosby had one goal and four assists, and Malkin had one goal and two assists. Both were scoreless in Games 2 and 7 — home losses.
"It's something that we can't really judge until we get there, how we're going to do without those guys when you get to those points," Kunitz said. "You just hope that Sid gets better and will be able to join us at some point, but we have to stay alive."
The Penguins remain optimistic about continuing their success even without Crosby and Malkin. They tied for the second-most wins (49) in franchise history and third-most points (106) in the NHL despite Crosby and Malkin both missing the final 29 games of the season.
"With Sid and 'Geno' being out for awhile, it was nice to see that we were a team that stuck with each other and found ways to win," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. "Guys did everything they could to get points, to win. We've been successful through the season. We just have to keep playing the same way. ... That's always the goal, get to the end and get the Cup. That's every team's goal, and it's ours, still."
Bylsma believes the Penguins' system and style of play in the regular season will translate to the postseason because of the reliance on solid defense, strong goaltending and winning close games — all playoff staples.
"We found we can win hockey games and be a good team with the guys in this room," Bylsma said. "It's been a process over 40 games or so, but I think it's established that we're ready to be able to win hockey games and be ready for battles and one-goal games. I think we have a chance to be a team that has very good players, a good power play, and we think we have a chance to go in there and have success."
The Penguins went 15-10-4 without Crosby and Malkin, though six of those wins came in the shootout, which is not used during the playoffs. They scored two or fewer goals in 16 of those games, including 10 against teams that qualified for the postseason.
Penguins players are growing weary of talking about the absence of Crosby and Malkin but know they can quiet such conversation by continuing to do what they have the rest of the season: win without them.
"Obviously, we've been asked a lot of questions about those guys — pretty much every day, I think I've been asked that — but this team just keeps on rolling," center Jordan Staal said. "We haven't really missed a beat since they've been out. Now, we want (Crosby) back as soon as possible, but we're a pretty solid team without him and we'll be an even better team when we get him back."Additional Information:
The Penguins enter the Stanley Cup playoffs without centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who have combined for 155 postseason points and 59 of their 192 playoff goals dating to 2007. The Penguins' records in postseason games when Crosby and Malkin scored compared to games they were pointless:
Ottawa: 1-2 when they scored; 0-2 when scoreless
Ottawa: 4-0 when they scored; 0-0 when scoreless
N.Y. Rangers: 4-0 when they scored; 0-1 when scoreless
Philadelphia: 4-0 when they scored; 0-1 when scoreless
Detroit: 2-2 when they scored; 0-2 when scoreless
Philadelphia: 4-1 when they scored; 0-1 when scoreless
Washington: 4-3 when they scored; 0-0 when scoreless
Carolina: 4-0 when they scored; 0-0 when scoreless
Detroit: 3-2 when they scored; 1-1 when scoreless
Ottawa: 4-2 when they scored; 0-0 when scoreless
Montreal: 3-2 when they scored; 0-2 when scoreless
Totals: 37-14 when they scored; 1-10 when scoreless