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Crosby says playoffs could be Penguins core’s last chance at Cup

CRANBERRY, Pa. — sidney crosby has played 16 of his 17 NHL seasons for the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of a core with Yevgeny Malkin and Kris Letang.

That could soon change.

Crosby understands the Stanley Cup Playoffs might be the core’s final chance to win the Stanley Cup for the fourth time. Malkin and Letang each is in the final season of an eight-year contract and can become an unrestricted free agent.

“As much as you don’t want to think about it, it’s something that you understand could be a possibility,” Crosby said. “I think you just try to enjoy it as much as you can and try to take it all in because you know it’s something that’s not going to last forever, whether it’s this year or down the road a little bit more.

“You only get to play for so long, so I think just trying to enjoy it and be grateful for the opportunity that we have to do it again.”

The Penguins (45-25-11) are one point ahead of the Washington Capitals for third place in the Metropolitan Division and end the regular season against the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG Paints Arena on Friday (7 pm ET; ATTSN-PT, BSOH , ESPN+, NHL LIVE). They made the playoffs for a 16th straight season, the longest active streak in the NHL, and will play the New York Rangers or Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference First Round beginning May 2 or 3.

Crosby, the Penguins captain, is signed through the 2024-25 season. He missed the playoffs as a rookie in 2005-06, his only NHL season without Malkin and Letang.

Each has won the Stanley Cup three times (2009, 2016, 2017), the past two for coach Mike Sullivan.

“To have the opportunity to be their coach, for me, is an unbelievable honor and a privilege,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think in terms of what might happen in the future. What I think is that I’m just really appreciative of the opportunity that we have right now together as a group.”

Crosby, a 34-year-old center, leads Pittsburgh with 84 points (31 goals, 53 assists) in 68 games this season. He was named the Penguins MVP for the 10th time, second most in their history behind Mario Lemieux (12).

Video: NYI@PIT: Crosby scores off turnover with Guentzel

Malkin, 35, has scored 40 points (19 goals, 21 assists) in 40 games since returning Jan. 11 from having knee surgery June 4. Letang, 35, has tied his NHL career-high of 67 points (nine goals, 58 assists ) in 77 games.

Crosby’s 1,107 games played are the most in Penguins history, ahead of Malkin (980). The centers are second and third in team history in goals (Crosby, 517; Malkin, 443), assists (Crosby, 892; Malkin, 701) and points (Crosby: 1,409; Malkin: 1,144).

Letang has the most goals (143), assists (506) and points (649) by a Penguins defenseman.

“The reality is we’re in a business where change is inevitable,” Sullivan said. “It’s part of what we all sign up for. I think, with respect to these guys and what they’ve accomplished, and the legacies that they’ve built here in Pittsburgh, it’s impressive. They’re deserving of the recognition that, just based on what they’ve accomplished, when I look at this core group of players, I believe they’re the best core, in my mind, that I’ve ever been around.”

Video: PIT@DET: Letang makes it 4-2 off the faceoff win

That hasn’t translated to recent playoff success. Pittsburgh has not advanced past an opening-round series in three straight seasons.

Crosby scored six points (three goals, three assists) in 14 games during those runs. Malkin scored nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 12 games and Letang seven (one goal, six assists) in 14.

“I think every year is different, as far as how you feel and how you evaluate,” Crosby said. “Just make sure you appreciate the opportunity that you have, and you understand as quick as you can have that opportunity, it can be gone quickly too. So you can’t waste any time as far as being ready.

“I think that when the time comes, we’ll understand that having gone through those experiences.”

The Penguins’ play late in the season has also caused concern. They’ve been outscored 9-2 in two straight losses and are 4-7-1 in April.

Crosby, who has scored 191 points (69 goals, 122 assists) in 174 playoff games, remains confident.

“I think momentum is a funny thing,” Crosby said. “You just grab a little momentum, and you try to ride it out.”

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