Cook: Crosby gets to work on putting end to his slump

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The one stat was awful enough.

Do you believe yesterday was the first time that Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby scored a goal for the Penguins in the same game since the Steelers still were in playoff contention?

All the way back to Dec. 11, to be exact.

But it was the other stat that almost was too much for the hyper-competitive Crosby to handle.

Do you believe his third-period, power-play goal in a 3-2 overtime win against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena was just his third goal in the past 20 games?

"If I score three goals every 20 games, I'm not doing my job," Crosby said, biting off his words and nearly choking on them.

It was starting to wear on Sid the Kid. All you had to do was see his joyous celebration after his goal to know that. Yes, it pushed the Penguins into a 2-2 tie in a game they seemed destined to lose after they trailed, 2-0, after two periods. And yes, it gave Crosby -- still nearly five months from his 20th birthday -- the staggering feat of 100 points for a second consecutive season at the start of his NHL career.

But you know what?

This goal felt so good because Crosby almost had forgotten how terrific it is to score one.

"Obviously, there's frustration when things aren't going well for you," he said. "You just have to make sure it's the right type of frustration. You can't let it take the wind out of your sails. You have to make sure it pushes you harder."

So it was with Crosby yesterday.

He wasn't just the best player on the old building's big slab of ice. He was the hardest-working. His all-out, all-the-time performance made for quite a contrast with that of the game's other big star -- the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr -- who did nothing for two periods before begging off of the third period and overtime because of some sort of right leg injury.

Crosby finished with seven shots, most of them good scoring chances.

It would have been a crying shame if he hadn't gotten one past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"You just keep going," Crosby said. "You focus on getting better. You know you've had success in the past. You stay with what has worked for you ...

"When you do the right things, a lot of times the puck finds you."

That's what happened to Crosby in the third period. He was hovering alone near the net to Lundqvist's right when he snagged Malkin's shot through the goal crease with his left hand, quickly dropped it at his skates and swatted home a backhander.

Malkin's power-play goal earlier in the period was just as pretty. His blast through Lundqvist got the Penguins started and pushed them hard toward their 20th comeback victory of the season. It was his second goal in two games after an eight-game goal drought and was important for reasons that go beyond the fact it and Crosby's goal gave teammate Colby Armstrong a chance to win the game in overtime.

"This is the time of year," Crosby said, "when your offensive guys have to do something."

It truly is amazing that the Penguins are in such fine shape for the playoffs despite getting so little from their two biggest stars the past couple of weeks. Crosby hasn't just had a hard time scoring goals. He has had a hard time setting them up. He went into yesterday with just one goal and one assist in six games.

One reason is Crosby's right winger, Mark Recchi, 39, who, lately, has played as if he's 49 after looking 29 most of the season. He hasn't scored a goal in nine games. Another reason is Crosby's never-ending parade of left wingers. Ryan Malone was there yesterday. Before him, it was Malkin and Gary Roberts and even Recchi for one game when Malkin lined up at right wing.

Not that Crosby would ever point out either.

The Kid doesn't make excuses, you know?

The great ones never do.

They just find ways to get it done, no matter what.

"Goals like the one Army had today are huge," Crosby said. "You see a lot of those goals in the playoffs.

"But when you get to this time of year, the guys you count on to create things have to lead the way."

On the Penguins, that's Crosby and Malkin.

It's nice to think this day was just the start of big things ahead.

Ron Cook can be reached at .


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