Bet on Crosby and Penguins to win


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MONTREAL -- I have to be honest, I thought long and hard about going all negative on you this morning and mentioning David Volek and Tom Fitzgerald. But that would be living a lie. I truly don't believe the Penguins are looking at another Game 7 nightmare at Mellon Arena. Not Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Not in what would be the final hockey game in the grand old building.

I'm betting on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Especially after what I saw happen at the end of the Canadiens' 4-3 win in Game 6 Monday night at the Bell Centre.

Really, is there a better bet in all of sports these days than Crosby, particularly when he's amped up and clearly annoyed by the opponents?

I know some of you are worried sick. The Canadiens began to thoroughly outplay the Penguins after falling behind, 2-1, in the second period Monday night and really didn't stop until they had completed their fourth survival win of these playoffs. Surely, they will come to town feeling mighty confident that they can dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance to the Eastern Conference final against Boston or Philadelphia. They have stayed in the series by outscoring the Penguins, 11-6, at even strength, excluding empty-net goals.

You also probably know they have a white-hot goaltender -- Jaroslav Halak -- who is threatening to do to the Penguins what he did to the powerful Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs when he won Games 5, 6 and 7 by stopping 131 of 134 shots. After allowing the Penguins to take that 2-1 lead by giving up a weak goal to defenseman Kris Letang on the power play, he turned away the next 16 shots he faced before giving up a deflection goal to Bill Guerin that made it 4-3 with 1:24 left.

Too little, too late for the Penguins.

My ears still are ringing from the bedlam in the Bell Centre. Talk about pain. But, I swear, there's nothing wrong with my mind. I'm still betting on Crosby. In one game -- winner take all -- I want him on my side.

"You just try to make sure you're at your best," Crosby said of his approach to Game 7. "It's just one game and so many things can happen. You just try to play your best like everyone else and see where that leaves you."

It's a strategy that's worked pretty well for Crosby in previous big games. He scored the first and final goals in the 6-2 win at Washington in Game 7 last season. He also scored the overtime goal for Canada to beat the United States in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics in February.

I dare to think Crosby has at least one more big goal in him this series.

"I hope, yeah, I hope so," Crosby said. "There's one game left. It's the biggest game yet. So, yeah ... "

This was fewer than 10 minutes after Game 6. Crosby was perfectly calm, unlike the man who had to be held back by the officials from going after Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges after the final horn sounded. As the game ended, Crosby cross-checked Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec in retaliation -- at least in his mind -- for some unexplained offense. He then began chirping at Gorges and had to be restrained after Gorges skated over to put in his two cents. Some will say Crosby was frustrated by the loss. I'm thinking he was angry. I'm also thinking anger, in this case, is a good thing.

Crosby has had -- at least by his incredible standards -- a quiet series. He didn't score his first goal until Monday night when he swatted the puck out of the air and into Halak's net to pull the Penguins into a 1-1 tie.

"It was nice to see one go in," he conceded. "You work so hard to get your chances."

He also had an assist on Letang's goal.

Funny, I thought Game 6 was going to be the night that Crosby did something remarkable, something more than a one-goal, one-assist night. Canadiens defenseman Hal Gill, who had played so well against him in the first five games of the series, didn't dress because of what's believed to be a deep leg cut from Penguins winger Chris Kunitz's skate blade in Game 5. So maybe I was off by a game. Game 7 would be just fine, right?

Crosby sounded as if he can't wait when he explained the postgame scrum with Plekanec and Gorges.

"That's just Plekanec," Crosby said, biting off each word. "It's better to get that stuff over with. We've got more hockey to play. Game 7."

Sure, anything can happen.

You remember Volek's overtime goal for the New York Islanders to beat a terrific Penguins team in Game 7 of the 1993 playoffs? How about Fitzgerald's third-period goal for the Florida Panthers that stunned the Penguins in the '96 conference final?

There won't be a repeat Wednesday night at Mellon Arena.

Write it down.

Crosby won't allow it to happen.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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