PITTSBURGH - They all said he was so quiet before the game. One of his teammates, Ryan Malone, said he had never seen Sidney Crosby like that. The Penguins were down by two games to none in the Stanley Cup finals. They had been shut out by the Detroit Red Wings in both of the games. Hyped as the future, the Penguins were proving themselves unworthy of the present.
And their leader stood mute.
"I think it was desperation," Crosby said.
Sometimes things are that simple. The Penguins were not facing actual elimination, but they were facing virtual elimination. There is no other way to put it. They would win last night or they would be done. Crosby would lead them last night or the Penguins would be left with ashes.
He knew it. He thought about it, silently.
"I wanted to make sure personally I had a good game," Crosby said. "You want to be quiet, but you have to have a sense of confidence in the room, too. I think we all believed that if we put our best game out there, we gave ourselves a good chance. But personally, you just want to make sure you're leading by example and doing your job out there. And that's all I was basically trying to do.
"I mean, it's not hard to get up for a game this big, especially in the Stanley Cup final."
Crosby has now shown what he can do on his game's biggest stage. He scored two goals last night and the Penguins hung on to beat the Red Wings, 3-2. The Pens now trail by two games to one. They have not lost a playoff game this season at home.
Crosby ignited them, in every way. He scored twice, hit a crossbar, got cartwheeled at one point by a hip check from the Wings' Kris Draper. But he got up, and he dragged the Penguins with him.
"What you look for from your captain, he showed the example," said Michel Therrien, the Penguins' coach. "Good players, when the challenge is there, they look forward to these games."
The night seemed to turn in the first period after Therrien put Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together for a cameo shift with about 5 minutes to go (along with Marian Hossa). There are plenty of reasons not to put the two of them together for extended periods of time; for one, they both can't avoid Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom that way.
But there are times when you want to grab the biggest hammer in the drawer. And while the line didn't score, it gave the Penguins their first sustained puck possession in the Detroit end in a five-on-five situation, and it seemed to ignite the rest of the Pittsburgh team. Before that shift, the Pens had been outshot by 9-1, the single shot coming in the game's second minute.
When Therrien sent him over the boards with Malkin, Crosby said the two of them did not talk.
"When we're put together, we know what the message is," he said. "We need to create an opportunity and at the same time just momentum. And we tried to do that. And when you have three players doing great things like that, your job is to go out there and make something happen. So we pretty much know the message and not much of that needs to be said. That's their job and our responsibility to our team, to make sure we do something with it."
The first goal soon followed, on Crosby's next shift, when he converted at the end of a play that began with a turnover in the Detroit end. The second goal came on the power play, a classic example of what has become an absolute NHL truism in the last couple of years. That is: Don't lose Sidney.
In this case, Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart - who had his fingerprints all over the turnover that led to the first goal - allowed Crosby to get behind him and park himself on the edge of the crease, seemingly unnoticed. This is pretty much disastrous, pretty much all the time. It certainly was this time, as Crosby buried the rebound of a Hossa shot behind Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood.
If the 1-0 lead was big, the 2-0 lead for the Penguins was exhilarating. But it did not end the game, not nearly. In the end, the Penguins had to do a lot of hanging on. The Red Wings played well. The game was wide-open.
"Coaches probably cringe when they see a game like that," Crosby said. "But that's the style of players, I guess, from both teams. There's a lot of skill on both sides, and you have to expect some nice plays and some good opportunities."
And, with all of that, Crosby stood out. And because of that, this might just be a series after all.
"It feels good," he said. "I mean, we definitely earned it. But at the same time, it's one. And you don't want to take anything away from it. We realize how hard it was and how tough it's going to get. So it feels good to come out of this game on the other side, for sure. But we realize it's only one." *
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