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Are the Pittsburgh Penguins doomed if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin don't start scoring?

Although captain Sidney Crosby and fellow center Evgeni Malkin have made meaningful contributions to help the Penguins reach the Eastern Conference finals, Pittsburgh's top two scorers have been all but shut out in the scoresheet. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Here is the simple narrative of the Eastern Conference finals, from the Pittsburgh Penguins' perspective: If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin do not score, the Penguins are cooked.

See? We said it was simple.

The problem is the theory behind this particular narrative is neither simple nor necessarily accurate.

However, it's easy to see why people might believe it to be true. Crosby and Malkin are two of the most talented hockey players in the world. Crosby has gone eight games without a goal, and Malkin is currently in a six-game drought. The Penguins trail the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 in the conference finals and desperately need a win in Game 2 on Monday (game time is 8 p.m. ET).

But pull back slightly, and you'll see that the two stars have combined for 20 points in 23 playoff games this spring. Crosby has been a factor in virtually every one of the Penguins' 12 postseason games. Malkin, because his game is not as complete and he has been asked to do less than Crosby, in terms of shutting opponents down, has been less of a factor, but he remains a dangerous force on the ice.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper seemed mildly perplexed by the notion that the two Penguins centers are struggling. He too noted Crosby's 11 postseason points.

"That's probably a lot more than a lot of other guys that are playing the playoffs right now," Cooper said. "I think Sidney's dry spell is most players' hot spell."

The Lightning coach did say that if Crosby and Malkin don't score, the Lightning's chances of winning go up. That seems to be a true statement, just as that the Penguins beat the Washington Capitals in six games with Malkin and Crosby combining for one goal is an undeniable truth.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Bob Errey, a longtime broadcast analyst for the Penguins, revealed another basic truth about the lack of production from the two big men.

"It's no big deal if you're winning," he said. "Big deal if you're not."

The bigger question, Errey said, is: How are they playing?

"I still think they [the Penguins] can win if they don't score," Errey said.

But that would put even more pressure on the Penguins' penalty-killing unit and 21-year-old goaltender Matt Murray, who will start his 11th straight postseason game on Monday.

Colby Armstrong, who played with Crosby in Pittsburgh and is now an analyst, is a little more patient when things go cold offensively because he knows how much talent the two stars possess.

"I always think that those guys can get it done, that they'll pull through," Armstrong said. "There are too many good things about them. It's just a matter of time before things start clicking."

Armstrong thought Crosby had showed more jump in Game 1 of the conference finals than he had against the Capitals. He wondered if Penguins coach Mike Sullivan might consider restructuring Crosby's line, given that rookie Conor Sheary has not been as productive as he was earlier in the playoffs.

Sullivan acknowledged that he is looking at whether different combinations might give his team better chances to score. However, the team's dynamic, four-line attack was a catalyst in its march to the conference finals, with 15 Penguins scoring goals, even if not as many as people might've thought came from Malkin and Crosby.

"What we've tried to reiterate to both Sid and Geno is they have to focus on playing the game the right way, taking what they give us, not trying to force plays that aren't there in order to try to score goals," Sullivan said. "When they play the game the right way, they're very difficult to play against. They help us on both sides of the puck. They're talented enough players that we think they'll score for us. That's really been our message to those guys."

Guess what? This isn't the first time Crosby has been asked about going dry. It probably came up a few times when he had one goal and five total points in October. Then he went on to lead all scorers in the league after Sullivan took over as head coach in December, so he knows dry spells come and go.

"I think, if anything, you just understand that it does happen," Crosby said Sunday. "There are times when you can't really explain it. You have the opportunities, or there's chances where the puck doesn't seem to bounce that way, and there's no real great explanation for it. But I think you've just got to trust and use that experience that eventually, if you do the right thing, the puck will go in the net."

As for the line of questioning, Crosby is pretty Zen about it.

"I think, as someone who's looked to produce offensively, that's something that you understand is part of it," he said. "If I had a half an hour to dissect the game and tell you what I thought here and there, it'd be a lot easier. I've got to answer it all in 30 seconds. I try to do my best, and I think it's part of the playoffs. It's not easy to score, and I don't think I've ever taken it for granted that it's easy.

"You look at series in the past, and it's very common for guys to have trouble finding the net at different points in the playoffs. You've got to get through that, and you've got to find ways to produce and be good in other areas too. There's more to winning games sometimes than just specifically that. It's all those things combined, but you want to score at the end of the day."

We'll see if that day happens to be Monday.