PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The truth of the matter is that these moments have eluded Sidney Crosby far more often than someone of his stature and skill should be denied.
But that has been Crosby’s lot in life in the playoffs these past few years.
And until Crosby took a little drop pass from Bryan Rust and snapped home the winner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals for his first career playoff overtime goal just 40 seconds into the extra session against the Tampa Bay Lightning, you had to wonder if Crosby’s recent history was going to continue to dog him.
Because on Monday night, as he has on many nights this spring and on many spring nights since the Pittsburgh Penguins won a Stanley Cup in 2009, Crosby was good.
Very good, in fact.
He finished with six shots on goal. He made a handful of terrific plays to generate quality scoring chances, especially in the third period, when head coach Mike Sullivan juggled lines, moving longtime winger Chris Kunitz back to Crosby’s line with Patric Hornqvist.
But as regulation ended, it was still 2-2 and the Penguins were one mistake from going into an 0-2 hole with the series set to shift to Tampa for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday.
The Penguins’ captain had not scored in eight straight games heading into Game 2. And it looked early like the drought would go to nine, in spite of a handful of glorious chances, including one wicked shot that glanced off the shaft of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s stick and out of harm’s way.
Vasilevskiy also robbed Crosby on a glorious backhand chance earlier in the game.
So maybe it wasn’t going to happen for Crosby on this night.
I had, in fact, asked Crosby about the attention being paid to his goal-scoring drought the day before Game 2. He acknowledged that even though you might be playing the right way and doing other things productively, the bottom line is he needs to score.
He gets that. And he gets that those questions become more pointed when he doesn’t score and the team doesn’t win.
In Game 2, when the Penguins needed one of their big guys to step forward, it was Crosby who yelled to Rust that he was open on that first overtime shift and the rookie obliged, setting the stage for the fastest overtime goal in franchise history.
There was much good-natured ribbing of Rust, who actually had a pretty good look on the play himself that it’s probably good to give Crosby the puck when he asks for it.
“I didn’t think Rusty saw me, so I just tried to let him know I was there,” Crosby explained. Whether he hadn’t scored in a while or not, “it feels good to get rewarded,” he said.
The Penguins beat the Washington Capitals with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combining for one goal and especially after the Penguins dropped Game 1 by a 3-1 count, the debate was about whether the Penguins could continue to have success if Crosby and Malkin did not score.
That it was Crosby who delivered the goods, thus ending at least for the time being the discussion of his productions was not lost on his teammates.
“He worked hard the whole game,” said Malkin, who has now gone seven straight postseason games without a goal and who played a number of shifts with Crosby in the latter stages of the game. “He played right. It’s a tough game, he’s our leader. We believe in him, we believe in everyone here. I hope he’s going to score every game. He’s a huge part.”
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy was effusive in his elation that it was Crosby who had found a way to bust out of his slump.
“The best,” Lovejoy said. “It is so great to see him score. He, rightfully so, judges his game on filling the net. And we know they’re going to come. They always do. He’s playing great hockey and that was a huge goal tonight.”
Crosby’s linemate Patric Hornqvist good-naturedly chided reporters for having questioned Crosby about his scoring woes.
“That’s a huge goal for our team and it was the perfect player to get it, too,” Hornqvist said. “You guys are all over him, and I think he’s top-five [actually top-12] in scoring in the playoffs. Now he got the big one — the biggest one of the year — and we’ll see what happens.”
And there it is, no?
These moments are meaningful in the here and now. They are a potential building block for what happens next, and next after that.
If it hadn’t been Crosby maybe it would have been Rust or some other Penguin.
“To be in the playoffs here, it’s a great opportunity, and to score and contribute it feels good,” Crosby said. “But it’s one game and whether you win 5-1 or 3-2 in overtime, it’s one win. So you’ve got to keep that in mind.”
But sometimes maybe a goal, especially when it’s scored by one of the game’s greatest players who has struggled to produce these kinds of endings, can mean something more.
Sullivan believes it can be.
“I think it’s a big boost,” he said. “I think it’s a big boost for Sid. I think it’s a big boost for our team.”