Crosby silent again as Rangers push Penguins to Game 7 of series
NEW YORK — The Penguins' Sunday night ended with Pittsburgh's two hockey icons seated next to one another. Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby — the Penguins' greatest of all time, and team owner, and their greatest of this time, and team captain.
That was no accident, as Lemieux walked in and out of the visiting dressing room at Madison Square Garden several times after the Penguins' 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 6. He eyed Crosby on each entrance.
Their conversation, as do the few Lemieux has had after playoff games with players, remained private.
The pressure on Crosby, though, is very public.
He has one goal in 12 Stanley Cup playoff games and finished Game 6 with only four attempted shots — the one on net in the second period his first power-play shot of the series — and the Penguins have let a 3-1 lead become an elimination Game 7.
Consol Energy Center will host it at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, and tickets are available.
Lemieux, like Penguins fans, will watch to see if Crosby can shake himself from struggles that he tried to downplay on Sunday night.
• On his overall performance this postseason: “I'd always like to generate more, but I'm trying to compete and generate out there; but I'll leave that to you to decide.”
• On why his “compete” is not leading to more production: “That would be your opinion, so I'll let you form that.”
• On his offensive production: “It's a matter of taking advantage of your chances and capitalizing, so I'm trying to go to the right areas and find ways to create. Sometimes it's easier than others, but ultimately you've got to find a way to be successful.”
Crosby, 26, was the Penguins' highest-paid player this past season at $12 million. He produced a second scoring title and is the favorite to win his second MVP.
He has 10 goals in his past 41 games.
He has one goal in his past 17 playoff games dating to Round 2 of last postseason, a stretch that includes going without a goal in the 2013 Eastern Conference final and the Penguins' Round 1 against Columbus this year.
He has publicly said he is not injured, and team personnel have confirmed that privately.
However, until Tuesday night, nobody associated with the Penguins — neither publicly nor privately — had offered a theory as to what is wrong with Crosby, who is the face of the NHL and most often referred to as the world's best hockey player.
Defenseman Rob Scuderi came the closest to addressing Crosby's struggles after Game 6.
“I think he's pressing a little bit because that's the type of player he is,” Scuderi said. “He knows the type of talent he has, and he wants so badly to produce for this team. If he's playing well, we're going to benefit from that. If he has 40 assists and no goals, I'd be OK with that.”
Crosby has one goal and eight assists in the playoffs. Only three of those assists are primary, and he is a minus-3.
Coach Dan Bylsma took center Evgeni Malkin's advice in Round 1 and played him with Crosby on the top line. Since that point, Malkin and Crosby each have attempted 50 shots and placed 22 on net. Malkin has six goals to Crosby's one.
It is to the point that Bylsma said after Game 6 he would consider again playing Malkin at his natural position, center, on a second line with wingers James Neal and Jussi Jokinen during Game 7.
Neal has only one goal in eight games since Malkin moved up to play with Crosby.
Malkin has as many goals as Crosby (1), Neal (2) and Kunitz (3) combined this postseason.
The MVP during the Penguins' Cup run, Malkin has produced 13 points in 12 games — including two goals and four points in the Penguins' wins over the Rangers.
Bylsma said the Penguins “need everything from everybody, everyone's best” on Tuesday night.
The Penguins are 27-26 in the playoffs since winning the Cup in 2009.
That is not all on Crosby. He has produced 51 points in 45 playoff games since grabbing the Cup.
Game 7s — as Max Talbot proved for the Penguins five years ago — set legacies.
That is true even for an icon.
“We've got to be at our best when it matters the most,” Crosby said. “It's pretty clear and simple when it's a Game 7.”