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Fantastic Finish
MICHAEL FARBER
June 16, 2008
The dynamic Red Wings held off the Penguins in a taut, six-game series that reminded the nation just how compelling the NHL can be
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June 16, 2008

Fantastic Finish

The dynamic Red Wings held off the Penguins in a taut, six-game series that reminded the nation just how compelling the NHL can be

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THE FIRST thing to go in the losing dressing room is the playoff beard. As soon as the hirsute pursuit of the Cup concludes, whiskers follow Cup-hoisting hopes down the drain. An hour after Detroit's celebration had begun on the Mellon Arena ice, Crosby emerged from Pittsburgh's dressing room in a somber black suit and matching expression. The lamest playoff beard of 2008 had been shorn, but Crosby had kept that wispy mustache, at least for this night. He shook hands and wandered down the corridor to see his family.

The Cup belonged to the Red Wings, but Crosby never relinquished his grip on hockey's future. The captain was steadfast, working the hard areas on the ice, making inspired plays, taking hits like defenseman Brad Stuart's Game 6 blockbuster, which made Crosby blanch but never discouraged his forecheck. While other young Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal swooned under the weight of expectations, Crosby was a factor until the final seconds, when he almost scored on a wicked backhander. In a finals crammed with indelible moments—Zetterberg's exemplary penalty killing on a five-on-three in Game 4, Marc-Andr� Fleury's second-period toe save on Mikael Samuelsson and Maxime Talbot's last-minute goal in regulation, which resuscitated the Penguins' season in Game 5—Crosby provided the coda.

In a perfect world his shot would have ticked off Osgood's glove and into the net, and the Penguins would have won again in overtime, setting up a Game 7 that could have vaulted these finals into the pantheon. Of course, in a perfect world Crosby would also be a better finisher. Considering the precociousness of this 20-year-old, however—Crosby's 27 points tied Zetterberg for the playoff scoring lead—that imperfection is a cavil, an element of his game that, like his playoff beard, will improve over time.

Much like the prospect of the NHL's return to the mainstream of American sports, Crosby, in a first but surely not last trip to the Stanley Cup finals, looked splendid.

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