When Sidney Crosby scored early in the second period last night, his reaction was noteworthy. Here was the best player in the world celebrating a breakaway goal like someone who hadn't done this in the playoffs 40 previous times.
The reason for Crosby's joy was simple and extraordinarily well-publicized: He had gone 13-plus games without a goal, and 14 straight in the playoffs over this postseason and last. The fretting in Pittsburgh was getting to be a bit much, and so to finally unburden himself with that wrist shot that flew through Henrik Lundqvist's five-hole must have been a great feeling. That the goal stood up as the game-winner was fitting. It was, after all, his only shot on goal on a night where he was clearly the best player on the ice.
So much pressure is rightly heaped on Crosby, and so much hand-wringing has been done about this goal drought, but this was always coming, and now it might not stop. The thing with hockey is that when you go through long stretches of ineffectiveness (at least on the scoresheet), it tends to even out over time. And when you're a player of anything resembling Crosby's caliber, any goal feels like it might be a dam bursting. In the 13 games dating back to March in which he did not score, Crosby piled up 39 shots.
Three a game is a lot for most players, but it's actually down a little bit from both Crosby's career and season averages. There has been some talk that he might be playing injured, as the CBC apparently tracked his speed as being much lower than usual, but you wouldn't have guessed it last night. Crosby is and always has been a phenomenal and powerful skater, and the separation he put between himself and Marc Staal—no slouch—was enough. Maybe in a healthier state, he has a little bit more room, but it doesn't matter. Where the injury talk comes in, though, is the fact that he flew the zone fairly early. Crosby doesn't necessarily have this reputation league-wide, but he's generally responsible when it comes to own-zone play, and so to see him take off like that isn't exactly what you'd call a common occurrence. If he's playing hurt, he knows what he needs to do to generate some offensive chances for himself, and if floating into the neutral zone is what it takes, then you can't really blame him.
Part of it, too, might have been that desperation. Answering question after question, game after game, about how he wasn't scoring had to take a toll. Crosby, by virtue of being the a superelite athlete, is one of those guys who naturally puts immense pressure on himself, and really doesn't need the help from any second-guessers who are asking him if he's okay every time he fails to put up a point.
Which, by the way, isn't often. Crosby entered last night's game with six points in eight games. That's not a lot by his standards, but it's not making excuses to chalk that up to bad luck. Even saddled with so-so linemates, he's been driving play forward at a monumental clip of 63.5 percent fenwick for when the score is close (within a goal in the first two periods, and tied in the third). That's ludicrous. His team has put 60 shots on goal in those situations, and including last night's slump-buster, just two have gone in.
Given that these things tend to even out, it seems very likely that Crosby is going to score more often going forward. You don't hold someone like that off the scoresheet for that long without it eventually swinging back in the opposite direction. If he has a handful of goals in these next couple games, that's not Crosby getting hot—that's just him regressing to his mean.
But the question becomes whether that will be enough for the Penguins, who've benefitted from some luck of their own. On the other bench, Rick Nash doesn't have a goal in his last 11 games (and last 13 playoff games, but who's counting). And his shot total during that time makes Crosby's look paltry: 48, a bombardment that might impress even Alex Ovechkin, with nothing to show for it. If Crosby's goal was the first blast of a fireworks show, then Nash is a time bomb.
Just like for Crosby, the signs are there. Nash has been on the ice for 48 shots with the score close in these playoffs, and just four have gone in. (He assisted on three.)
This "It's gonna happen" expectancy applies to the Rangers as a whole. They had what can safely be called a decent power play this year (18.2 percent versus the league's 17.9 percent average), and yet have gone 3 for 42 (7.1 percent) in the postseason. And it hasn't been all luck, either. The power play looks genuinely awful. But its current 0 for 35 stretch just can't be expected to continue, nor can the Penguins expect the Rangers, who tallied 57 shots en route to being shut out in consecutive games, to stay off the scoreboard.
So this could become an offensive slugfest, and with a resurgent Crosby versus a previously luckless Nash and his New York squad, the results would be spectacular. The monkey is off Crosby's back now, and the onus is on the Rangers' top goalscorer to shake his own. But just like it was never really in Crosby's control all along, neither is it in Nash's. He just has to keep shooting, and the puck will bounce his way eventually. But down 2-1 in the series, time isn't on the Rangers' side.