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.