Crosby has zero doubt about Penguins core despite early playoff exit

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Sidney Crosby didn’t want to discuss the possible end of an era for the Pittsburgh Penguins after they were eliminated with a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup First Round at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday.

It’s a debate Crosby has heard many times before, about whether Pittsburgh should move on from its core of him, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang

“They’ve been saying that for four years, right? So I don’t know if I’m going to change their minds,” Crosby said. “As far as what I’d say, I really don’t know. I know that the three of us, we want to win and we’ll do whatever it takes to try to compete to do that every year.” 

Four years ago, the Penguins won their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship, and third with Crosby, Malkin and Letang. But since then, they have won one playoff series and lost in the opening round each of the past three seasons.

Against the Islanders this postseason, Crosby, 33, scored two points (one goal, one assist) in six games, Malkin, 34, scored five points (one goal, four assists) in four games after returning from an undisclosed injury in Game 3, and Letang, 34, scored six points (one goal, five assists) in six games. 

“I believe in the core,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “This is the best core group of players that I’ve ever been around, bar none. They’re a passionate group. They’re generational talents. They still can compete at an extremely high level. They’ve shown it game in and game out.” 

They did show it in the regular season.  

Crosby led Pittsburgh with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists) in 55 games, and Letang was third with 45 points (seven goals, 38 assists) in 55 games. Malkin, who missed 23 games because of a lower-body injury, scored 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in 33 games, including 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in his final 13 games.

But to Crosby, that’s what made this early exit frustrating.

“As far as what I can see and how I feel, there’s zero doubt in my mind that the group that we have is a really good group and we had an opportunity here,” Crosby said. “That’s why it stings so much.” 

Those opportunities might be closing soon.

Crosby, the Penguins captain, has four seasons remaining on a 12-year, $104.4 million contract ($8.7 million average annual value) he signed June 28, 2012, but Malkin ($9.5 million) and Letang ($7.25 million) will be entering the final season of his contract.

“I’ve never been one to try to be GM, and I’m not going to start now,” Crosby said. “I think those guys (Malkin and Letang) want to win. I know that we’ve been together a long time. I’ve seen how much they care and their commitment. I’ll never doubt or question that.  

“There’s so many parts, and it is a business, so that’s up to other people.”

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