2011 NHL Playoffs: Minus Sidney Crosby, Penguins Cannot Hang with East Elite

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2011 NHL Playoffs: Minus Sidney Crosby, Penguins Cannot Hang with East Elite
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Despite sitting out over 40 consecutive games, Crosby still leads all Penguins skaters in goals (32) and points (66).

Without their big two centers in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins have still managed to open up a 3-2 series lead over the high-scoring Tampa Bay Lightning.

Before the postseason, many selected the Penguins to move at least into the second round on the strength of their goaltending, defense and coaching.

Pittsburgh is in position to eliminate Tampa Bay with a win Monday evening in Florida. While the team has looked mostly good in its victories, a pair of uncharacteristic blowout losses have shown Pittsburgh is still operating at less than 100 percent.

Tampa Bay is a good team with a few excellent scorers, but Pittsburgh's postseason experience is far greater. That experience has helped them to take a few games against an inferior and less experienced opponent.

That won't be the case if the Penguins grind their way into the semifinal round. Pittsburgh's possible opponents for a second round match include Boston, Montreal, Philadelphia and Washington. Each of those four teams is playoff experienced, and three would hold a home-ice series advantage over the Penguins.

The games only figure to get tougher. Dan Bylsma's club has done a fine job of maintaining a winning pace since January, but they may not have the gamebreaker they need to take a series from the Eastern Conference's elite teams.

Ten arguments for Pittsburgh's vulnerability with their captain in the quiet room:

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