Sidney Crosby's shining time
The hour is nearly at hand. Not three years after he was drafted number one overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins -- a less surprising pick we have never known -- Sidney Crosby, already a Hart Trophy-winner, already an NHL captain, has taken his so recently beleaguered franchise into the Stanley Cup finals. Fait accompli, sure. But just 32 months after his NHL debut? Who knew?
He is only 20, his baby-face downed with a scraggly playoff beard, an ill-grown thing more probably seen on your sister's nightmare prom date. He can't drink, he doesn't smoke, he's practically young enough to court Miley Cyrus -- though he only has eyes for Stanley.
And yet the astonishingly swift rise of the NHL's franchise player has seemed, at times, an afterthought this postseason. We have been diverted by the sometimes thundering domination of Evgeni Malkin, or the suddenly sturdy-yet-supple goaltending of Marc-André Fleury. Pittsburgh's postseason domination has clearly been a team achievement -- 10 Pens have scored at least two goals -- and while the points have been plentiful for Sidney (his 21 lead the league), the goals (just four) have not.
Let's not forget though, that this is Crosby's team -- built around him, aligned for him and playing a style that best suits his ways. We have been reminded this postseason that even on the rare days when he goes pointless, Sidney is always one of the three best players on the ice. Often, of course, he is the best, as he was in the Penguins' 6-0 trouncing of Philadelphia that got them to the promised land.
We saw him make like Minnesota Fats on the first goal of that game by bouncing one off the skate of forward Ryan Malone and into the net. A little luck, sure, but luck created. All the world (and all the Flyers defense) acted as if Crosby were letting loose a shot on goal, but Sid the Unleasher knew better. Iit was a purposeful pass to the area where Malone, by Crosby's lights, was headed. And Malone was
We saw Crosby devise the third goal thusly: he back-checked to take the puck from Mike Richards in the neutral zone, then moments later there he was, deep in the left wing corner, snapping a backhanded pass backward and onto the tape of linemate Marian Hossa. who one-timed it in.
And we saw him on the fourth goal, up near the crease, just to the left of goaltender Martin Biron. It was Malone who deflected Sergei Gonchar's shot into the net; but it was Crosby who helped get inside Biron's head.
"We didn't let our foot off the gas," Crosby said after the game.
Now the Kid is firmly in the spotlight, the advance story line of Game 1 on Saturday night. He'll be the story line once again when NBC takes over the finals coverage, beginning with Game 3 on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. With no American Idol to compete against, hockey's idol may have a lot of eyes upon him. Crosby has already helped lift ratings -- the Versus numbers have skyrocketed this postseason, and NBC's airing of that Pittsburgh-Philly Game 5 was up from a similar game a year ago.
We know that for all we've seen of Crosby, he's becoming a star who rises still higher in the biggest games. We remember the three-assist third-period when he made his first NHL visit to Gretzky's old stomping grounds in Edmonton last December; we recall his play in the Jan. 1 outdoor game in Buffalo, when he made like a globetrotter bringing the puck up ice, then later scored the shootout winner.
We remember those things and prepare ourselves. The Sidney Crosby Show is about to begin, in the Stanley Cup finals, already.