BOSTON — Sidney Crosby was so good Thursday in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins that even his opponents offered unqualified praise. With a black eye and a healing gash beneath his left eye a few games ago, Crosby simply spoke of the importance of the win.
But Crosby’s head coach, Mike Sullivan, shook his head with a crooked smile, knowing his words wouldn’t do his captain justice.
Kris Letang, who has been a teammate and part of the longest-serving trio in North American sports history with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (18 seasons), succinctly summed it up.
“He’s always our leader, year after year,” Letang said.”This year, it seems like he’s taking the lead every single game. He gets us going. The way he shows up to the rink, the way he works. Plays both sides of the game.”
Crosby, 36, put an exclamation point on his game in the final 36 seconds of the Penguins’ win Thursday when he outskated the Boston defensemen to negate an icing call, thus killing approximately 16 seconds, if not more.
At 36 years old and after a few months of carrying his team, he had the legs to chase down one of the most important pucks of the season. The Penguins are tenuously in the Eastern Conference playoff race. A second consecutive loss, especially one in which they blew a three-goal lead, would have been a painful blow.
Instead, Crosby scored the game-winner, won 16 of 22 faceoffs, his line paced the team with six high-danger chances (according to NaturalStatTrick.com), and eventually negated the icing call.
“I just think he’s the heartbeat of our team. He’s the guy that is the standard bearer, and when the stakes are high, I think that’s when he’s at his best, and he does a lot of the little things that help us win,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “The offense speaks for itself … but a lot of the little things that he does on the defensive side, whether it’s winning faceoffs or blocking shots or negating icing (like he did) in the five-on-six. It’s things like that that add up to winning. I think he leads the charge there for our team.”
The first national talk connecting Crosby to the Hart Trophy came in mid-December when Crosby factored into all of the Penguins goals in a 4-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 13. Sportsnet offered Canada its first option not named Connor McDavid. There are a plethora of Hart candidates this season, but Crosby is on pace for nearly 50 goals on a team that would be praying to St. Jude as a lost cause otherwise.
How often do opponents stray beyond basic praise or respect? Thursday night, Boston Bruins captain Brad Marchand not only called Crosby the best 200-foot player in the game, but he also called out the rest of us for not giving Crosby enough.
“He’s still one of the best in the world. He’s not really getting the credit he deserves right now,” said Marchand. “A lot of the attention is on the younger guys, but if you look at the details of the game and the full 200 feet, he’s by far the best player in the league. He and (Nathan) MacKinnon, two good Nova Scotia boys.”
Marchand, a premier trash talker and pest, knew better than to agitate Crosby lest his team’s punishment worsened. Marchand told the Pat McAfee show on Thursday he “wouldn’t mess with Crosby.”
The fellow Nova Scotia native product later admitted he knew there would be some trash talk coming back to him from Crosby at a later date, but he had more praise for Crosby, too. Marchand took direct aim at the current game and what he sees as overselling flashy new players like Connor Bedard at the expense of players who play a complete game.
“He’s not as flashy as some of the higher-end guys. He plays hard and direct,” Marchand said of Crosby. “He plays a winning way. The young guys are getting the attention. If you look at the attention Bedard is getting compared to Sid, they’re not at the same level right now. Bedard is a hell of a player for his age, but Crosby is one of the best ever to play the game.”
As a footnote, Sidney Crosby was named to his 10th All-Star Game Thursday.
“It’s always an honor to be among all the guys and all those elite players,” Crosby said. “I think it means a lot. It’s not something you think about until closer to it, but I don’t think I ever take it for granted.”
Marchand’s video and quotes are courtesy of our colleague Jame Murphy, Boston Hockey Now.