PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby didn’t mince words after the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 3-1 to the New York Islanders in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday.
The Penguins were swept in the best-of-7 series, marking the first sweep of Pittsburgh since the 2013 Eastern Conference Final to the Boston Bruins.
Malkin said New York was hungrier and wanted it more than Pittsburgh. Two years ago, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup for a second straight season.
“We’re not champions anymore,” Malkin said. “Nobody wants to respect our team. Everyone wants to beat the Penguins. … It was a tough year. It comes to the playoffs and we tried. But it’s hard.”
Crosby blamed himself after having one assist in the four games. That was a new low in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for Crosby, undercutting his four points (two goals, two assists) in five games against the New York Rangers in the 2015 first round.
“Personally, I have to be better,” Crosby said. “I have to find a way to produce and contribute and find a way to help us win. I didn’t do that.”
The Penguins didn’t look like the group that had won those two championships, Malkin said. He said they weren’t fast enough, and that if they were, “we win the game.”
The Islanders outscored the Penguins 14-6 in the series, and 10-3 in the final three games. Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead in each of those three games, but held those leads for a combined 4:51.
Jake Guentzel, after scoring 40 goals in the regular season, scored his first of the playoffs 35 seconds into the first period Tuesday. Just 1:34 after Guentzel celebrated, turning up the far wall with each arm extended above his head, Islanders forward Jordan Eberle tied it 1-1.
“They just played a little better than us and they came out on top in every game,” Guentzel said. “It’s going to be a long summer. It’s definitely going to hurt for a while.”
Guentzel had that one goal and Crosby had his one assist. Malkin was held without a point in the final two games after having three (one goal, two assists) in the first two. Phil Kessel didn’t have a point in the final three games and Patric Hornqvist went without a point in the series.
Each of those players was vital to the Penguins in the 2016 and 2017 title runs. But after losing a sixth straight playoff game, which includes Games 5 and 6 of the 2018 second round against the Washington Capitals, changes could be coming.
“You can’t change the whole team. You can’t change 10 players,” Malkin said. “Of course you change a couple. Great players play here. We’ll see what’s going on this summer. Every year, we try to win. Can’t change the whole team. Maybe change one or two. Maybe more.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said it would be difficult to discuss the offseason so soon after being eliminated.
“The reality is we win as a group and we lose as a group,” Sullivan said. “We’re all a part of it. So we’ve all got to take responsibility. It’s disappointing. We had high expectations of this team. We believe we have good players. We had the potential to be a good team. We obviously did not play well enough to win.”