Don’t tell me about the down-the-liners.

Let’s not get bogged down — now as the NHL playoffs are set to start — about who will be the sixth defenseman, the assembly of that fourth line or some tactical eccentricity the Penguins need to really pay attention to in order to win.

For me at least, this is about the stars when the Penguins match up with the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then, perhaps, beyond.
Isn’t it always?

The biggest games, the biggest moments, the times of most consequence — they come down to the guys who are paid to shoulder the heaviest loads.

So save the talk about how David Perron might impact things, how Chris Kunitz could (or could not) find his scoring touch again, how Ian Cole might perform in the playoffs with his new team or how a couple of newcomers have to execute under pressure on that line blue line.

This will be about Sidney Crosby.

This will be about Evgeni Malkin.

This will be about Marc-Andre Fleury.

How will those three players achieve now that the season has shifted into the postseason?

It’s about them. It comes down to them. And, quite honestly, can and will they take over games?

First there is Crosby, a man who had a stellar regular season even as the feel from some in the fanbase would give you the indication that he underperformed. All the captain did was go out there and finish third in the league in scoring — with 84 points — while battling a case of the mumps during the season.

Crosby goes into this postseason on the heels of abysmal showings in the past two playoffs, as he has scored just eight goals in the previous 27 postseason games he’s played.

It is fair and right to criticize his postseason play and expect more.

It’s also fair and right to say the Penguins — an underdog against the Rangers — don’t stand a chance unless Crosby plays at optimum level.

Don’t tell me about the down-the-liners. It will be about Sid.

Same with Geno.

He’s a guy battling a bad back who played in 69 games this regular season and didn’t register a point in the last five he participated in. Quite simply, we are seeing a Geno who is less than 100 percent and one who has underachieved this season in total, but has also shown flashes of brilliance.

In the last three playoffs, Malkin has notched more than a point per game, getting six goals and eight assists in 13 postseason games last year.

Is that peak level? No.

Is it good? It is decent.

But he will have to perform at a much better rate if the Penguins are the stand a chance against the Rangers.

Don’t tell me about the down-the-liners. It will be about Geno.

Same with Fleury.

He was spectacular during the regular season and, it can be safely said, the Penguins might not have this postseason opportunity without his play.

But we all know what can happen to Fleury in the playoffs.

In four if the last five playoffs, Fleury had a save percentage below .900 and two seasons ago in the playoffs, his goals against ballooned to 4.63. He seemed to get things back on track during last postseason — and, again, was fantastic during this regular season — but no one know how he will present himself until those bright lights flick on Thursday night against the Rangers.

It really will come down to those three for the Penguins.

It’s about Sid and Geno and Flower.

If the Penguins want to make any noise, that triumvirate needs to — most likely in unison — take over this series and beyond.

Spare me the talk about all the other guys.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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