NASHVILLE -- Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sat in the penalty box together in the third period, watching with looks of disbelief when the Nashville Predators scored another goal.
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It was symbolic of their night at Bridgestone Arena, the Penguins' two best and most important players all boxed up and frustrated, incapable of doing something, anything, to make a difference.
For the first time in the 143 Stanley Cup Playoff games they've played together, Crosby and Malkin were each held without a shot on goal in the same game. The Penguins lost 5-1 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, their lead in the best-of-7 series trimmed to 2-1.
Crosby has been held without a shot on goal in five of his 145 career playoff games, including four this postseason. It's happened to Malkin eight times in his 146 playoff games.
"I thought they had some looks, they had some attempts, they didn't hit the net obviously," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Obviously, those are important guys for us. We want them to get pucks on net because they have the ability to score."
Crosby was credited with three shot attempts; one was blocked and two missed the net. He also won 15 of 26 faceoffs and played 20:42. Malkin was not credited with a single shot attempt and he won two of nine faceoffs. He played 15:53.
"I need to play better," said Malkin, who scored two goals on two shots in the first two games of the series. "I can't explain it."
Crosby said he felt he had some chances around the net to get a shot on goal, but he couldn't squeak one through to get it on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (27 saves).
Malkin said he feels he needs to look to use his wrist shot more instead of relying on getting set up for a one-timer. He also feels he could have gone to the net more than he did in Game 3.
"It's hard to find space, but we need to try," Malkin said.
Sullivan said he thinks the problems the Penguins had on the power play in Game 3, problems that have been persistent through the first three games of the series, also played a role in Crosby and Malkin not generating anything at 5-on-5.
The Penguins were 0-for-3 on the power play with one shot on goal (from Patric Hornqvist at 16:52 of the second period, after Nashville took a 2-1 lead). They even allowed the Predators to have five shorthanded shots on goal.
The Penguins are 1-for-13 with four shots on goal on the man-advantage in the series.
"My feeling, or at least my observation coaching these guys, is when they have success on the power play it helps their overall game, their 5-on-5 game as well," Sullivan said. "I think it gives them confidence, they feel the puck, and we haven't had the success that we would like here in this early part of the series. We certainly have to figure that out as a group and I believe we will."
The Penguins, though, had the puck in the Predators zone for the majority of their first power play, which started at 4:50 of the first period, when they already had a 1-0 lead. But they played mostly on the perimeter and didn't force Rinne to make a save.
Malkin even passed up a one-timer so he could pass to Phil Kessel, who tried to set up Crosby on a backdoor play that didn't connect. Malkin never looked to shoot again despite getting the puck another three times at the right point. Crosby, playing low, never got a good look.
The Penguins barely set up on their other two power plays.
"They like to pressure us, play quick," Malkin said. "We talk before to control puck, use each other, but we forget [to] shoot. We control [the] puck pretty well, but we try to score empty net. I pass to Phil. Phil try to pass to Sid and empty net, but it [did] not work because they play so well in 'D' zone. We need shots."
But as Malkin said, those aren't so easy to get on the power play because of the Predators' system of pressuring high in the zone.
"I don't have room," Malkin said. "I have puck one second and they jump to me."
They need more room at even strength too. It's been a struggle for them to find it for most of the series.
"I think that it just comes down to execution and winning battles and they've probably done a better job at certain points of doing that," Crosby said. "I don't think it's a system thing. Ultimately, it comes down to winning a battle against the guy you're going against. There's a lot of man-on-man stuff, so we've got to find ways to hold onto the puck and get it to the net."
They didn't do it in Game 3. Maybe, as Crosby referenced when talking about the team as a whole, it'll serve as a hard lesson learned, one they can use in a positive way in Game 4 here on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).
"It's just one game," Malkin said. "We lost one game. We still lead 2-1. We need to play better and we have great chance to win next game."