Mar 22, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71) congratulates center Sidney Crosby (87) after Crosby scored a goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Pittsburgh Penguins Should Keep Sidney Crosby & Evgeni Malkin Together

They’ve been called the “Two-Headed Monster” when they play together at even strength, but that creature seemed all but extinct until Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were reunited for Game 5 of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first-round series against Columbus.

According to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, the two superstars requested that arrangement following a Game 4 loss that saw the Pittsburgh offense go stagnant in the final 40 minutes. Moreover, Crosby and Malkin had gone a combined 17 playoff games without a goal to that point, so maybe necessity was the mother of re-invention.

The duo recorded only one point – a power-play assist from Crosby – in a Game 5 victory Saturday at Consol Energy Center, but there were definite signs of life from the Penguins top line, which featured Crosby centering Malkin and Chris Kunitz.

That trio remained together for much of Monday’s Game 6, combining for three goals (all by Malkin) and five total points if power plays are factored in. Their puck-possession dominance led the way as the Penguins built a 4-0 lead after two periods before holding on for the series-clinching result.

As has been written elsewhere, including here by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review‘s Rob Rossi, the return of center Marcel Goc from injury made it easier for the Pens to justify loading up the top forward unit. With Goc manning the third line and the resurgent Brandon Sutter bumping up to the second, Pittsburgh’s depth wasn’t compromised much – if at all – by the lineup adjustment.

While some observers expressed trepidation about putting Nos. 87 and 71 together, I see it as a refreshing lack of stubbornness from a Penguins team that has stuck to its guns to its own detriment at times. You couldn’t say the Pittsburgh offense was struggling through four games against Columbus – it had scored 14 goals in roughly 14 periods of play – but Crosby and Malkin were bit players for much of that time.

That changed in the final two games of the series, a turnaround we can at least partially attribute to the big boys playing together more. Some of that push could be merely a return to health, as Crosby hadn’t looked himself after sitting out twice late in the regular season and Malkin returned from a hairline foot fracture in Game 1.

But no matter where you give credit, the Penguins were decidedly more dangerous with Sid and Geno working in tandem vs. Columbus. They don’t have to play together all the time, but the threat of it should give future playoff opponents something else to worry about.

Injuries to Sutter and Joe Vitale in Game 6 raised doubt that the Pens could keep Malkin and Crosby together, but both hobbled centers skated in Thursday’s practice, inspiring hope that Pittsburgh’s “nuclear option” will remain viable as the second round begins this weekend.

Tags: Evgeni Malkin Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014

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