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Penguins tasked with plowing ahead without Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh squarely focused on defeating Capitals in Game 4, not losing captain to concussion in Game 3

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- Win one for Sid?

No, just win.

That seems to be the attitude of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that needs to be their attitude against the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

 

[RELATED: 5 Keys to Game 4 | Complete Capitals-Penguins series coverage]

 

Center Sidney Crosby is out with a concussion, and make no mistake: Many Penguins are furious with the cross-check to the Pittsburgh captain's head by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen in Game 3 and the NHL Department of Player Safety's decision not to suspend him. There is no minimizing the absence of a player who won the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy this season.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Crosby exits with injury early in 1st

But they lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. They have the ability to win without Crosby, even on top of the absences of forward Conor Sheary (concussion), defenseman Kris Letang (neck) and goalie Matt Murray (lower body), if they play up to their potential.

If they focus on Game 3, they won't be focused on Game 4. If they take penalties, they will put Alex Ovechkin and Co. on the power play. If they change their game, they will get away from what has made them successful. That could make a bad situation worse.

But if they stay under control and execute, they can make the best of a bad situation. We don't know how long Crosby will be out. It's foolhardy to predict when it comes to concussions. But we can say the longer the Penguins stay alive, the better the chances Crosby could return in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I don't think you can get too emotional about it," Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said. "The playoffs are something that you need to continue to fight through every obstacle and continue to fight through every kind of setback, if you will. Thinking too much about it, getting too emotional about it, getting fired up about it, would really only take you off what you're trying to do as a team.

"So I think if we have a businesslike approach and go about it and continue to try to do our job and follow the team game plan, I think we'll put ourselves in a better spot than if we get fired up and try to get retribution. I just think we have a very mature and professional team."

Video: Previewing Capitals-Penguins Game 4

Clearly, the Penguins are taking their cues from coach Mike Sullivan. He has decisions to make when it comes to the lineup, and he said everything was on the table. But he doesn't want his players to change anything in terms of style or structure.

"We're not so much focused on who's not in our lineup tonight," Sullivan said. "We're focused on who's in our lineup tonight, and those guys are going to help us win a game."

It's the same approach the Penguins have taken throughout the playoffs.

Murray left in warmups before Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Marc-Andre Fleury has excelled in goal. Letang hasn't played in the playoffs; the defense has made do. Chris Kunitz missed the first five games and Carl Hagelin missed the first six; the forwards were fine until they came back.

Though the Penguins have struggled with possession, they have made saves, blocked shots and cashed in on chances.

Crosby has been a huge part of that. He leaves by far the biggest hole. Not only does he make plays himself, he makes his teammates better by setting them up and drawing tough matchups.

Crosby is a big reason rookie forward Jake Guentzel leads the playoffs with seven goals. In the first two games of this series, he was the main reason the Penguins took two-goal leads in the second period, scoring twice in 54 seconds in Game 1, setting up two goals in Game 2.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm2: Guentzel strikes on odd-man rush

But the Penguins still have one of the best players in the world, center Evgeni Malkin, and he has produced more without Crosby than he has with him.

Malkin has 154 points (66 goals, 88 assists) in 118 regular-season games without Crosby, an average of 1.31 points per game. That's higher than his overall average of 1.179, which is 15th in NHL history.

Malkin scored two goals in a 5-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the first round in 2013, the only playoff game he has played without Crosby, and he scored and set up a goal after Crosby left Monday. He leads the playoffs in scoring with 15 points (four goals, 11 points).

The Penguins still have Guentzel, Hagelin, Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Bryan Rust

"We believe in each other," Kessel said. "We've got a deep group here. We've got a lot of good players. We've got a lot of guys who can step into the lineup and make a difference.

"We've had this before, right? We seem to get some injuries once in a while here. We just kind of keep going."

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