Hockey / Sports

Penguins' Sidney Crosby will take plenty of heat for loss

PITTSBURGH -- The questions came, and they likely won't stop coming for some time.

Sidney Crosby didn't have any answers, at least not in the immediate aftermath of the Penguins' season coming to an end.

He didn't have answers for what changes might loom for the Penguins after they lost, 2-1, against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center in Game 7 of the second-round playoff series.

It marked the fifth year in a row since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup they have failed to make it back to the Cup final.

"I don't know," he said of what direction the organization might take in the wake of the Penguins, seeded second in the Eastern Conference, losing three games in a row as the fifth-seeded Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit.

"The game just finished. There are always questions when expectations are high and you don't win. That's normal. I'm sure there will be a lot of questions."

He didn't have answers for the questions that have been and will be directed at him, either.

Crosby, 26, finished the postseason with nine points, eight of them on assists, in 13 games. He had no points in the final three games that defined the Rangers' comeback.

He scored in Game 3 of this series, the winner in a 2-0 Penguins victory. That was his only goal of the postseason and ended a playoff goal drought that lasted 13 games, dating to last year. He had 38 shots in 13 playoff games, 19 in seven games against the Rangers and had a plus-minus of minus-4 in the postseason.

"Obviously, I would like to score more and contribute more, but it wasn't a lack of effort or competing or anything like that," Crosby said. "I'd love to tear it up every series, but that's not always the case.

"It doesn't make it any easier, I'll tell you that. It's tough losing as it is, but, when you're not able to contribute as much as you'd like, it's even tougher."

After his lone goal this postseason, speculation about what might be wrong with Crosby, injury or otherwise, died down, but it picked up again over the ensuing four games. He was the target of a lot of physical play by Columbus in the first round and, in particular, by New York in the second. Asked after Game 6 if he was healthy, Crosby simply said, "Yup."

In the regular season, Crosby won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer with 104 points. He is a finalist and considered the heavy favorite for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

Throw in the fact that Crosby was the youngest captain to hoist the Cup when the Penguins won in 2009 and that he is widely considered the face of the NHL and the best player in the world, and it adds fuel to what is sure to be further criticism of his playoff performance.

"It's understandable that people are going to look in his direction," teammate Matt Niskanen said. "That's the nature of the beast. Is it fair? Probably not. That's just the way it is. That's the world we live in. It's our chosen profession."

This was Crosby's 99th game this season -- 80 in the regular season, six at the Sochi Olympics, where he and Team Canada won a gold medal for the second time in a row, and 13 in the playoffs. Because of injuries and a lockout, he had not played in more than 41 NHL games in a season since 2009-10.

There was no problem with fatigue or burnout.

"I feel good," Crosby said. "A lot of guys are in this situation. I feel like I managed it better than I did the last Olympic year."

In 2010, Crosby scored what has been dubbed the golden goal, an overtime goal in the gold-medal game against the United States that delivered Canada the championship on home turf in Vancouver.

A few months later, the defending champion Penguins beat Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs but lost to Montreal in the second, with Crosby getting five points but only one goal in the series.

"If I look back at the Montreal series and energy level compared to this one, I feel like I was in a better place (this time) as far as energy.

"It's just tight. It's tight out there. There isn't a lot of room. When you get your chances, you've got to make the most of them because you're not going to get many."

(c)2014 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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