The corollary to not overreacting when Sidney Crosby goes eight games without scoring a goal is also not overreacting when he finally finds the net. But hot damn, did the Penguins need that goal. If only to shut Jeremy Roenick up.
Crosby’s overtime one-timer to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 win and tie up the series was huge on its own merits. After giving back a 2-0 lead before the first period was out, and after failing to crack the Lightning’s backup goalie, and facing the prospect of heading to Tampa down two games, the Penguins desperately needed a goal from anyone. It just happened to be their captain, and his 47th career playoff goal just happened to be his very first OT winner.
“Whether I’ve scored in the last seven games or haven’t scored in the last whatever, it feels good to get rewarded,” Crosby said. “I think we deserved that one tonight.”
The Penguins outshot the Lightning 41-21, but Andrei Vasilevskiy, starting in place of an injured Ben Bishop, had stood tall after allowing two early goals. And as the zeroes piled up, Crosby’s goal drought—dating back to Game 4 of the Pens’ first-round series against the Rangers—started to stick out. Fair or not, that’s the way of things: When you’re rolling through the Presidents’ Trophy winners and getting goals from your depth players, no one minds too much if your top player isn’t scoring. But when you start to lose games and face a series hole, it becomes a thing.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan tried to get his scorers going, shuffling wingers on his top lines and even at one pointing putting Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (now with zero points in six games) together for a couple of shifts in the second period, and it almost worked, too. But Vasilevskiy got a glove on a Crosby backhand to keep things tied.
It was after that period that NBC’s Jeremy Roenick diagnosed Crosby’s problem: He just wasn’t working hard enough. Huh.
Oh yeah, that’s why they pay Roenick the big bucks.
It was some unintentional line-mixing that sealed things for Pittsburgh. At the end of the very first shift of overtime, Crosby’s linemates had changed but he found himself still on the ice. A Brian Dumoulin pass to Bryan Rust took Anton Stralman out of the picture, and the Pens had a 3-on-1. Only Rust didn’t realize it—Matt Cullen fell, and Crosby was out of his line of sight. So Crosby yelled to him. “I just tried to let him know I was there,” Crosby said. “I didn’t know exactly what he was going to do.”
“When one of the best players in the world is wide open, you definitely look for him,” Rust said.
Rust gave Crosby a little drop pass, and Crosby fired it over Vasilevskiy’s blocker.
Let’s avoid the temptation to make any big proclamations about this—one goal on a fairly open look does not a slump break. (Just as the goalless streak didn’t necessarily mean anything more than a run of tough luck.) But with a player like Crosby, you want and almost expect him to score on a look like that. He did, and this series is back to square one.