SI Vault
 
Getting His Feet Wet
MICHAEL FARBER
April 23, 2007
In his first trip to the postseason the Penguins' Sidney Crosby got roughed up, wielded his magic stick and delivered a few lessons of his own
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 23, 2007

Getting His Feet Wet

In his first trip to the postseason the Penguins' Sidney Crosby got roughed up, wielded his magic stick and delivered a few lessons of his own

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

"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 retaliation.

"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.

1 2