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Crosby: Penguins need better start in Game 7

by Mike G. Morreale

NEW YORK -- Now would seem to be the perfect time for Sidney Crosby to break out of his offensive slump if he hopes to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 2014 playoffs haven't come easy for Crosby, who has one goal and nine points and is minus-3 in 12 games. He has one goal and two assists against the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference Second Round series, which is headed for Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

In a 3-1 loss against the Rangers in Game 6 on Sunday, Crosby was penalized for cross-checking an opponent at the end of the second period. It appeared to be a penalty taken out of frustration against Dominic Moore, who was down on his hands and knees when Crosby drove his stick into the New York center's back.

It's something Crosby knows cannot happen in the series finale. It's also why Penguins owner Mario Lemieux paid a little visit to Crosby after the game to provide some support, counseling and, perhaps, advice inside the visiting room at Madison Square Garden.

After all, the Penguins were 13-6 with Lemieux in the lineup in playoff elimination games. Back-to-back losses to the Rangers have dropped Crosby's Penguins to 11-9 in those same situations, including 4-5 since 2010.

"Emotions run high, but I don't think that's why we lost [Sunday]," Crosby said. "We put ourselves in a bad position early on and had to fight back to try to get back."

Rangers center Derick Brassard knows that stifling the best players on the opposing team in the playoffs is necessary to advance.

"It's the playoffs," he said. "It's never easy to bring some offense. Our defensemen and all our forwards play them pretty tight. We make it hard on him. Obviously [Crosby] is going to get frustrated if he can't bring offense for his team."

Crosby, who scored 36 goals and led the NHL with 68 assists and 104 points in the regular season, is a finalist for the Hart Trophy for a fourth time this season. He won in 2007 and finished runner-up twice (2010, 2013).

He's been closely shadowed in the postseason though, and that sometimes leads to frustration when the team is suddenly in a tailspin as the Penguins are after having lost two straight.

"Right now, we need everything from everyone," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We need everyone's best. They've answered with two straight and everyone needs to be at their best for Game 7. We haven't been there at all times in the last two games, but we need it now in Game 7."

In Pittsburgh's six-game Eastern Conference First Round series triumph against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Crosby saw a heavy dose of Brandon Dubinsky. Against the Rangers, defenseman Marc Staal has played the role of stopper.

"As a team, you're playing solid and you want to stifle them as much as you can," Staal said. "You want to get under their skin. The stuff after the whistle and all those sorts of things just come with grinding out a series like we have, and now we get to play in another Game 7.

"There's a lot of stuff a lot of people were getting away with. Sometimes it's tough as referees to pick and choose what you're going to call and what you're not going to call. You just do your best to protect yourself in certain situations and not put yourself at a disadvantage."

Crosby, who has 41 goals and 114 points and is plus-13 in 94 career playoff games, has received his opportunities. He's tied for second on the Penguins in shots (36) and ranks first among forwards in ice time (21:15). He registered his first shot on the power play in the playoffs midway through the second period in Game 6 against the Rangers.

"I mean, it's a matter of taking advantage of your chances and capitalizing, trying to go to the right areas and finding ways to create," Crosby said. "Sometimes it's easier than others, but ultimately you've got to find a way.

"I think you try to learn from different experiences. If anything, I think the playoffs teach that you have to approach it as a clean slate; something to prove. We definitely should be eager to start a lot better than we have."

Crosby is right: The team that has scored first has won every game of this series. Now is the time for Crosby to come to the forefront and help lead his team to victory in the most important game of the season.


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