You wouldn’t know it if you only looked at the stat sheet (or, um, if you watched the Warriors game instead), but that might have been one of the finest playoff games of Sidney Crosby’s career.
The Sharks have been rightly lauded for their speed, especially as they outskated three more methodical Western Conference opponents. They hadn’t seen anything like the Penguins, and fell behind two goals before they even got their skates under them in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 Game 1 win. But as fast as the Pens were, Crosby was on another level altogether.
“He was inspiring,” coach Mike Sullivan said of his captain. “I thought he was a force all night.”
Crosby said he was “trying to keep up with the pace,” which is an infuriating little bit of humility, because everyone else was trying to keep up with him. I wish I had more highlights to show you, but his impact wasn’t so much showy as it was constant. It felt like Crosby made his presence felt on every one of his 25 shifts, whether it was getting to a puck that seemed out of reach, finding space where none existed, or feeding a teammate for a scoring chance he created out of whole cloth.
Thankfully, Crosby’s one appearance on the scoresheet encapsulated him at his best, and was a beauty to boot.
Notice where Crosby is when Olli Maatta sent the puck up along the boards, and notice how much quicker he reacts than anyone else. He’s up to full speed by the time Justin Braun gets turned around; he’s switched on the afterburners before Braun gets up to speed.
Crosby corralled the puck and reversed on a dime, causing Braun to wipe out.
“That’s what Sid is always great at,” longtime teammate Chris Kunitz observed, “getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space.”
Before he put Braun down, Crosby cast a quick glance to his right. It’s too much, even for him, to expect that he was able to see exactly how the play was going to develop, but at the very least he saw he would have a pair of teammates following the rush. So he was able to fire a no-look backhand centering pass to find Conor Sheary for the goal. Sheary said he was confident Crosby would find him with the puck, because “he sees you all over the ice.”
Crosby again showed off his blade-seeking radar in the third, with a little saucer pass that went over/past a pair of Sharks’ sticks to find Patric Hornqvist for a great chance:
That play’s a great example of the Crosby conundrum—he did literally everything to maximize the chances of a goal, but it didn’t come, so it’ll never show up on a highlight reel. It’s the kind of play he makes all the time, but unless you’re watching Penguins games, you don’t see them. He’s an even better creator than he is a scorer (and he’s an incredible scorer), so his dominance can be subtle: Even when he went eight games without scoring over the Capitals and Lightning series, he was still doing incredible shit like this—and still getting criticized by morons for not showing up.
These Penguins have more depth than rosters of years past, and that means more players who can take the opportunities created by Crosby and turn them into goals. It’s a simple concept, though not so simply applied: When you’ve got a truly transcendent player, the hard work is already done, but the trick from going to playoff participant to Cup contender is in building a team around him.