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• Shoot more. Check. Crosby, who had not taken more than 250 shots in a season since his rookie year, took 298 this season, fifth in the NHL. The extra shots translated into a goal bonanza, a leap from a previous best of 39. "Scoring 50 was a goal of mine, for sure, but that wasn't about me," Crosby says. "I thought last year as the season went on that if I had shot a little more, it might have opened things up [for teammates]."
• Improve on face-offs. Yep, did that. Crosby, who had a career face-off percentage of 49.6 before 2009--10, won 55.9% of his draws this season, 11th best in the league. Through Sunday his 57.0 playoff face-off percentage ranked sixth.
• Win an Olympic gold medal. Big check there. Of course to do it, he had to score the overtime winner against the U.S. in Vancouver.
• Conn Smythe Trophy? "I don't want to get too specific, but the Conn Smythe [for playoff MVP] usually goes to a member of the winning team," Crosby says. "So I'd like to be in that position."
"He's like Michael Jordan," Penguins fourth-liner Craig Adams says. "I don't know how many years it was into Jordan's career, but one day he decides he wants to play defense and goes out and wins the NBA's best defensive player award. When Sid puts his mind to it and works at something, he can do it. People were waiting for him to win his first Cup. Then there was the pressure to win the Olympics at home, and he scores the goal. Maybe some of the pressure's off now, but I'm not worried about him taking a breather."
"If the Olympics changed him at all, it relaxed him," Bill Guerin, his right wing, says. "Some guys in sports carry the pressure of leading a really good team. Some carry the weight of a whole city. He had the weight of a country on his back. The gold was a relief. But with Sid it's like, O.K., I did it; now let's move on."
Crosby's Olympics-winning goal already ranks among the greatest in the 135-year history of the sport, but after a country of 34 million hockey coaches exhaled, "Sidney came back, shook everyone's hand, accepted congratulations and was ready for the next game," Pittsburgh assistant coach Tony Granato says. He did not miss a Penguins match. He did not even blow off an optional practice. (Ovechkin, centerpiece of the Russian team that was humiliated by Canada in the Olympic quarterfinals 7--3, skipped the Capitals' optional skate on the morning of Game 7 against Montreal. Just sayin'.)
The toll of Being Sidney Crosby was apparent after the Olympic fortnight—in the first 13 games after Vancouver he scored only three goals and endured a goalless streak of seven matches—but he scored six in Pittsburgh's final seven games before embarking on a playoff series that gilded his reputation. In a six-game dismissal of Ottawa in the first round he had five goals, nine assists and two fistfuls of YouTube moments, although Crosby thinks he did his best work—eight goals and five assists—in the seven-game win over the Capitals in the 2009 conference semis. (Guerin: "Probably. He was really focused there. Wrapped up." Because he was facing Ovechkin? "Absolutely.") Yet there were grace notes in the Senators series that previously had not been apparent. In Game 2 Crosby sprawled to sweep the puck off the goal line and bail out goalie Marc-André Fleury. (Win Norris Trophy. Check.) And he dazed Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson with a seismic hit in Game 3. (Morph into big-hitting Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. Check.)
But, as in most great action movies, the highlight was the chase scene. This one lasted 13 seconds in real time, but it will run on Crosby top 10 reels for eternity. While being pursued by Jason Spezza behind the net in the third period of Game 2, Crosby wheeled and doubled back—twice—while at one point fighting off the Senators' center with one arm and controlling the puck with one hand on his stick. The only thing missing was a fast-forward button and that zippy music from the old Benny Hill Show. The pursuit finally ended when, from his knees at the right face-off circle, Crosby fed Letang at the point for the winning power-play goal. "The first couple of years I was always like, Wow! when I saw him do something like that," Talbot says. "Now it's just, Good job, Sid. That play was [the equivalent] of me chipping the puck [out of the zone]. Nice chip, Max. For him it's, Nice dipsy, dipsy, dipsy doodle, Sid."
Crosby has the turning radius of a Mini Cooper because of a skating technique known as Ten and Two. He has the uncommon ability to skate with his left foot pointing to 10 o'clock and his right skate pointing to 2, a vaguely Chaplinesque position that enhances mobility in tight quarters. "Sid actually went about a quarter to three on that one," says former NHL player Phil Bourque, the Penguins' radio analyst. "The advantage with Ten and Two is you don't have to stop. You can roll off guys. While most guys glide, Sid's lower-body strength is such that he can actually propel himself, push off when his feet are open. He's almost a freak of nature."