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Penguins forward Malkin struggling while playing hurt

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby is familiar with Evgeni Malkin's position.

A year ago, Crosby was criticized throughout the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs for his lack of production, partially resulting in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Eastern Conference Second Round series loss after leading the New York Rangers 3-1. After being held scoreless for a third consecutive game in Pittsburgh's 2-1 Game 7 loss, it was announced Crosby had been playing with a wrist injury.

Jump ahead to the Penguins' best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series against the Rangers, which it trails 3-1, and it is Malkin who has struggled to score while battling an undisclosed injury.

Game 5 will be played at Madison Square Garden on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, MSG).

"That's part of the playoffs," Crosby said. "That's what you see around the League, and this time of year it's not easy. Everyone's battling through stuff, especially him. He gets a lot of attention out there. So, for him to have to battle through that, it's important. But we're all in it together. We're all trying our best to create things.

"He's the same."

Malkin has yet to score in four playoff games, and has scored three points in his past 14 games. He has not scored a goal since March 6 against the Anaheim Ducks.

In an attempt to get the most out of an injured Crosby last postseason, the Penguins adjusted their lines, even playing Crosby with Malkin for stretches. A year later, Pittsburgh has moved forward Blake Comeau to the second line alongside Malkin, who said he was playing at 85-90 percent before Game 3, and David Perron.

Crosby said tweaking the lineup can have a positive affect for a player not playing at full capacity.

"I think it really depends on the situation," Crosby said. "It's really kind of whatever means you have to do at that point to help the team, and I'm sure the coaches are always looking at stuff game to game. But I think, as a player, that doesn't hurt. That's for sure."

While Malkin plays through his undisclosed injury, coach Mike Johnston said two injured Penguins are close to returning. Defenseman Derrick Pouliot (upper body) and forward Beau Bennett (upper body) are the only two injured players who could play in this series.

Defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) and Kris Letang (concussion) are not close to returning, Johnston said.

Entering an elimination game, Johnston remains confident the Penguins can advance. He believes a Game 5 win would drastically change the series and cited New York's comeback against Pittsburgh last postseason.

"This game going into New York, we win, this series changes completely," Johnston said. "It heads in our favor, for sure. Just because of the psychological edge of when they're at home. We win that game and bring it back here, that's a whole different series."

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