There's a Stanley Cup in Sidney Crosby's future, but first The Kid must find that one valuable ingredient currently missing in that championship equation.
Where's the adversity?
Pittsburgh might believe that its first series deficit in these playoffs -- courtesy of the Red Wings' 4-0 Game 1 deconstruction of the Eastern Conference champions -- qualifies as a true heart-wrenching hardship.
The Penguins have no clue.
Playoff adversity isn't a bad game where the open ice to which they were accustomed suddenly closes shut. Real playoff adversity gnaws away your gut. It inspires tears, but perhaps more important, it inspires a determination to find hope through the heartache.
Ask champions in any sport and they'll tell you that cruel fate provided them with the best educational tool imaginable.
The problem with Crosby is that everything has come relatively easy for him. There's no disputing his immense skills. And when watching him, you can't help but reflect upon Steve Yzerman's early days with the Wings when he was a teenage captain. But Yzerman suffered. His initial playoff distress conceived the indomitable will that ultimately endeared him as one of the game's great captains.
And that's what Crosby needs.
As much as the NHL prefers Crosby assuming the game's throne as quickly as possible for marketing purposes, the best championship education for him would be a humbling fall right now.
The Wings are happy to oblige.
Look at the young saviors through sports history. They didn't learn to rise up until they first got knocked down hard. Magic Johnson remains the lone exception. He lived up to his nickname, leaving Michigan State as a national champion, going No. 1 overall in the NBA draft three months later to the Los Angeles Lakers and then winning his first NBA championship as a rookie.
But that's an aberration. The normally accepted rule is that pain must precede prosperity.
Yzerman bore the emotional bruises, as did Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas.
These current Wings know something about the educational benefits of actual playoff adversity, like a No. 1 seed falling to an eighth seed in the first round.
You can't shake it. It stays with you. But the weird thing is that you want the lingering effects as a reminder to why you push yourself beyond self-imposed limitations.
Crosby has lived the competitive charmed life. In just three years, he already has a Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's most valuable player. He has gotten to his first Stanley Cup final much faster than Yzerman and his current boss in Pittsburgh, Mario Lemieux, and faster than Wayne Gretzky.
There was no panic in his tone yesterday.
"It's only Game 1," Crosby said, "so I don't think there's desperation."
This sounds mean and, even worse, provincial. But perhaps the best thing for Crosby's steady evolution into the NHL's next deity might be a four-game Wings sweep. It would humble the young man. It would embarrass him.
But it also would inspire him, igniting an eternal competitive flame. It would motivate him same as it did the prodigies preceding him.
It was a rough Stanley Cup debut for The Kid. He was matched up against Henrik Zetterberg, one of the game's best defensive forwards as well as one of its more prodigious offensive weapons.
"What are you going to do?" Wings coach Mike Babcock asked yesterday. "Tell Sid he's not playing? You play your players. I do the same thing. You've got to get your people on and off the ice. It's not like Crosby and his line didn't have chances."
Game 1 was the first time in nearly two seasons that the Wings and Penguins played each other, denying the teams the oppositional familiarity they enjoyed in their respective conference playoffs.
"I don't think we've had to match up our lines as far as the different tandems that the other teams play against us or defensive pairings and stuff like that," Crosby said. "For the most part, we've had to play against probably one really strong pairing. And then it has kind of tailed off after that. It's a little different with this team."
A decisive slap-down in the final might best serve Crosby's championship future. It's true in every sport. It's the bumpy road that makes reaching the destination that much more worthwhile.