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Anderson: Crosby Knows the Hard Truth About Making the Playoffs



Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

A lot of what Pittsburgh Penguins captain and top player Sidney Crosby says publicly can come across as fairly dry and cliché, especially when he takes a little time to offer his philosophy on various hockey topics. It’s been that way for at least the nearly 18 years since he arrived in the NHL.

Take it from someone who has interviewed Crosby throughout his Penguins career, from ages 18 to 35: He’s not trying to be evasive or dismissive. He’s almost always being thoughtful and honest, regardless of whether anyone thinks it’s boring.

Given that, it seems like a good time to remind Penguins and NHL followers of what Crosby has said consistently about making the playoffs.

He thinks it’s damned hard to get into the postseason.

Yes, even after the Penguins have made it the past 16 seasons, an active record not only among NHL teams, but also among all major pro North American sports teams.

Yes, even after there have been seasons where clinching home ice for the opening round(s) has seemed like the biggest task for the Penguins.

Yes, even after Crosby has helped the Penguins win three Stanley Cups and advance to the final another time.

You might think advancing when half the league gets in would seem like a low bar, or even a given for a successful franchise such as the Penguins. Fans of the club could be excused for such thinking after so many years of getting in. They might be more preoccupied with getting past the first round, and that is a valid concern.

Crosby, who missed the playoffs as a rookie and not since, doesn’t feel that way. He really doesn’t. He has said so many times, and the way he’s playing now backs him up.

Last summer, in a wide-ranging Q&A this reporter did with Crosby for The Hockey News, Crosby was asked about the possibility of the Penguins making another long run in the postseason given that he and fellow franchise core players Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang would be together yet again after the latter two re-signed.

His answer underscored the way he feels about qualifying for the playoffs. He said, in part:

“I try not to think that far ahead. It’s difficult to make the playoffs. It’s not something you take for granted.”

Keep in mind, the Penguins had not held training camp yet when he said this. Crosby had not had a first-hand look at the 2022-23 version of the team.

While Crosby might have done some internal evaluation of the roster after free agency and other offseason moves, the belief here is that in terms of making the playoffs, he was espousing a long-held belief and personal observation based on experience, not making some sort of prediction of what we are now seeing play out – the Penguins in a dire race just to squeeze in as a wildcard team in the Eastern Conference.

After Thursday’s 3-2 loss at Dallas, they are still clinging to the second wildcard spot.

To be sure, Crosby desperately wants to make the playoffs. His team-leading 31 goals, 54 assists and 85 points; his continued top-level 200-foot game; the drive we still see in his game all point to him doing everything he can to help make that happen.

Also to be sure, the criticism that has been heaped on the makeup of the roster and how that relates to the Penguins’ tough road to a possible spot in the playoffs is valid. The inconsistency, the dearth of depth, questionable contracts that have left the club cap-strapped, suspect goaltending at times, and injuries might well do in the team’s hopes.

Crosby knows, like everyone else who is monitoring the standings, that postseason play might not happen this season. He’s certainly doing his part to try to get the Penguins there. That ridiculous backhand goal Wednesday against Colorado is a testament to that.

And that is what this message is about.

Enjoy watching Crosby through the final 10 games of the regular season. Do it knowing how he feels about the difficult task of qualifying for the playoffs, and how that translates into the way he has performed this season, how he has played under the pressure of carrying the team, if not singlehandedly, then certainly to a significant extent.

Nothing boring about that.