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Stanley Cup Final

Penguins waste Sidney Crosby's best performance of Cup Final

Captain scores goal in Game 4, but Predators shut down Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby had his best game in the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

Crosby scored his first goal in 13 Cup Final games dating to 2009. He made terrific passes that only a small fraternity of hockey players could make to create chances for his linemates. He was on the puck all night. He had two breakaways.

"He took control," said Bryan Rust, the right wing on Crosby's line. "He was leading our team. He was determined."

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Penguins series coverage | Matt Murray expecting to start Game 5 for Penguins]

 

The Penguins, however, are going home without a win in two games against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena because their captain can't do it alone.

For as good as he is, and he's arguably the best player in the world, Crosby needs help to carry the Penguins to a win. He didn't get enough of it in Game 4, and the Predators won 4-1 to tie the best-of-7 series 2-2.

Game 5 is at Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

"Throughout every period there were some chances there that we didn't capitalize on," said Crosby, too humble to say he set up the majority of them. "You've got to play your game to give yourself a chance. Tonight, we had our chances and they didn't go in."

The ironic thing about the kind of night it was for Crosby is it in a way follows along with what basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley talked about in his surprise appearance at a pregame press conference with Wayne Gretzky.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Crosby nets slick backhand on break

Barkley was asked what great players across all sports have in common. 

"Teammates," he said. "When you play with great players, the game is so easy for you."

That seems like it could apply to Crosby because Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are on his team, and, well, they're pretty darn good. However, Malkin and Kessel didn't match Crosby's level Monday. They didn't come close. It's a big reason the Penguins lost.

Malkin and Kessel combined for four shots on goal and 15 total shot attempts, but each was held off the score sheet for the second straight game. Kessel hasn't scored in six straight games and has one goal in the past nine.

Kessel seemed to have more of a shooter's mentality in Game 4, but he still passed up chances to shoot coming off of the left-wing wall on the power play. He looked to pass on those plays instead. That's precisely what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan doesn't want him to do.

"I thought he had the puck more tonight than he's had in a lot of the previous games," Sullivan said, striking an optimistic tone when asked about the slumping Kessel. "As long as he stays with it, we believe he'll score goals."

The Penguins need him to score. Crosby needs it. As Barkley said, great players need their teammates to help make them great. That's how they help their team win.

They also need the depth players to come through, especially when Crosby is setting them up for Grade A chances, as he did for Rust and rookie left wing Jake Guentzel all game.

"You knew he'd have his best and obviously he was great," Guentzel said of Crosby, "but a couple bounces just didn't go our way."

Case in point, the play that started with Crosby's partial breakaway in the second period.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm4: Rinne dives for amazing blocker stop

Crosby was stopped by Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and then again on the rebound. Rust had a whack at the puck and then was able to put it into the crease. Guentzel was there and had a chance to put it in, but Rinne dove back to make the save at 8:56.

The Predators responded with a goal from forward Viktor Arvidsson at 13:08 to take a 3-1 lead.

"That one stung a little bit because that could have been a huge momentum goal and they turned it around and scored," Rust said. "Plays like that hurt."

So did the one Rust had in the first period when Crosby, leading the rush up the ice, as he did so often in Game 4, feathered a pass onto his stick, allowing him to keep his stride going through the left faceoff circle. Rust shot it wide at 10:04.

"That one flipped up on me," Rust said.

He can't let it. He has to settle the puck and bury it when Crosby gives him that good of a chance.

"I'm getting frustrated all over the ice," Rust said.

Video: Darren Pang on Crosby and Rinne's performances

Imagine how Guentzel is feeling after all the chances he had because of Crosby's brilliance.

Guentzel had three shots on goal and six shot attempts. Crosby one way or another set him up for five of the attempts, including a chance alone in the slot off a pass from behind the net at 2:31 of the second period. 

"I was trying to go five-hole but I kind of just got his leg," Guentzel said.

Predators forward Frederick Gaudreau scored the winning goal 74 seconds later.

"It's a different game if I score one of those," Guentzel said.

It's a different story about Crosby if he does. Instead of talking about how his brilliance wasn't enough, we'd be talking about how he willed his team to the brink of another championship.

Maybe that happens in Game 5 instead.

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