"At the end of
the game I was basically telling them, 'I don't know about you guys, but it's
no fun to lose,'" Crosby said. "'[It's] over with, so let's just make
sure we're ready for the rest of the series.'"
The Senators' plan
was to force Crosby to dish the puck early and then have a forward--coach Bryan
Murray employed his No. 1 line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel
Alfredsson against Crosby in the first two games--keep an eye on him. But the
more significant matchup against Crosby was Ottawa's shutdown defense pair,
Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Over the series' first three games, that
twosome played against Crosby on 55 of his 60 even-strength shifts.
Phillips, the first
choice in the 1996 draft, moonlighted as a winger early in his career before
finally establishing himself as a steady defenseman; Volchenkov, whose father,
Alexei, was a defenseman on the famous Soviet Red Army teams of the mid-1970s,
has mastered the art of blocking shots but is flummoxed by English. ("I
told him, at this stage, it'll probably be easier if I learn Russian,"
Phillips says.) Volchenkov finished the season with 273 blocked shots (45 more
than No. 2 Jason Smith of Edmonton) and 205 hits (12th most in the NHL), giving
him a league-leading 478 on the NHL's Blood and Guts Index. His torso is like a
painted desert sunrise, purples yielding to yellows that mingle with faint
reddish hues. Says Phillips, "He bruises really nicely. He has a lot of
stats he's able to show off all over his body." Each signed a new contract
before the playoffs--$14 million for four years for Phillips, $7.5 million for
three seasons for Volchenkov--and the way they marked Crosby, you would have
thought the pair had picked him up at the hotel in the morning. Phillips
knocked Crosby down twice on one shift in Game 1. At the end of the first
period in Game 2, he put his stick up to Crosby's clavicle, snapping the
center's head back; then Crosby had to outmuscle a clinging Volchenkov for the
puck to help set up a Roberts power play goal in that game. In Game 3 Phillips
wrestled Crosby to the ice, prompting Malkin to go after Phillips in
"They make it
tough on [ Crosby]," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "But good
players find a way to hurt the other team."
The second game of
the series was scheduled for 3 p.m. EST--Eastern Sidney Time. In Canada that
time slot was an insult. There's a 54-year tradition of Hockey Night in Canada,
not Hockey Afternoon in Canada. If this weren't a federal case, at least it was
a provincial case; Nova Scotia's House of Assembly passed a resolution
protesting the start time. Alas, NBC wanted Crosby for its national telecast.
Given a choice between CBC, the state-supported network that recently agreed to
pay $600 million for NHL rights for six more seasons starting in 2008--09, or
second-year partner NBC, which pays zero up front, the NHL accommodated the
U.S. network. If Crosby is going to proselytize for hockey, it does no good
having him preach to the Canadian choir.
Not that everyone
is on the same page of the hymnal. He was booed almost politely in Game 1. But
after the Ottawa Citizen ran a front-page column on Friday with a picture of
Crosby and a headline that read don't boo this boy--"What is this, the
Pittsburgh Citizen?" one caller to radio station Team 1200 demanded--it was
open-throat season on Crosby at the start of Game 2. Ottawa took a 2--1 lead
after two periods and appeared ready to break its winless streak of six matches
after Game 1 victories, but Therrien moved Malkin and Recchi to Crosby's line
in the third period, and that trio shut up everyone with Crosby's winner at
11:44. "A big goal," Crosby agreed, "but the ones in Dufresne's
backyard were for the Cup. This was just Game 2."
In the education of
a hockey prodigy, school is still in session.