The Penguins have been steadfast in their belief they can advance without Sidney Crosby.
They have enough depth and other weapons to win one more game, they have repeated. Not having their superstar center is not an excuse they are willing to use, coach Mike Sullivan and his players have said.
But in the game and a half of this first-round Stanley Cup playoff series the Penguins have played without Crosby, the Rangers have outscored them by six goals. The Penguins have twice blown two-goal leads without Crosby. And as his status remains uncertain, the Rangers have all the momentum for Game 7 Sunday at the Garden, after their come-from-behind, 5-3 win Friday night in Pittsburgh.
“I believe in this group. I think we have what it takes to win regardless of who’s in our lineup, ”Sullivan insisted. “I know we’re very capable.”
They have been unable to win so far without Crosby, out since taking an elbow to the head from Jacob Trouba in the second period of Game 5, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to play in Game 7.
Crosby didn’t skate with his teammates Friday morninge, though he did get on the ice with skills coach Ty Hennes. Crosby has a concussion, according to multiple reports, an issue he has dealt with throughout his brilliant career. Crosby has missed 108 regular-season games due to numerous head injuries.
“Sid is in a good place,” Sullivan said before the game.
The 34-year-old Crosby led the Penguins to a 3-1 lead in the series, torching the Rangers for two goals and nine points. Evgeni Malkin took his spot on the first line between wingers Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, and did score Friday night, tying the score at 3-3 late in the second period.
The Penguins seemed to be in control of Game 6, up 2-0 after one period. But the game swung when center Evan Rodrigues took a roughing penalty after a hit along the boards by Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren five minutes into the second period. Five seconds later, Rangers center Mika Zibanejad scored to slice a two-goal deficit in half and flip momentum.
“You just simply can’t. He’s got to keep his emotions in check, ”Sullivan said of Rodrigues. “That’s a necessary part of winning this time of year.”
Particularly for the Penguins, whose margin for error has diminished without Crosby.