With Crosby, it is never too late


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I picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup final in six games because Sidney Crosby was playing out of his mind and wasn't going to let the team lose. I'm still sticking with 'em even though Crosby hasn't done so much against the Detroit Red Wings and the Penguins find themselves in a big jackpot, needing to win Game 6 tonight at home and Game 7 Friday night in Detroit. I've learned from these Penguins in the Washington series that it's never too late. I've been watching the great Crosby too long to think he can't have two terrific games when it matters most.

Positive thoughts ...

Hey, it beats dwelling on the alternative.

Oh, what the hay.

Let's dwell for just a moment.

If the Penguins fail -- tonight or Friday night -- no one will lose more than Crosby. The bottom line is, he has had just one very good game out of five in the series -- Game 4 -- when he had a goal and an assist. Blame bad luck, bad bounces, posts, the inability of linemates Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin to score, Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood and Detroit's sensational two-way centers, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk (for Game 5, anyway), all you want, but it doesn't change that bottom line. Crosby failed to get a point in any of the three losses at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. He has only one goal and two assists in the series.

Zetterberg has twice as many points. Detroit rookie winger Justin Abdelkader has twice as many goals, and he played in just the first three games.

No one is thinking about Crosby for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP even though he still leads the Stanley Cup tournament with 15 goals. Osgood has to be the favorite at this point, although Zetterberg -- the winner a year ago when the Red Wings defeated the Penguins in six games in the final -- has been wonderful again. Should the Penguins come back to win the series, it figures to be Evgeni Malkin.

All of this has to be annoying for Crosby, who many of us believe is the best player in the world. A few others in the NHL might care as much about winning and a few more might work as hard to be their best, but no one cares more or works harder. It has to be eating at Crosby that he hasn't been able to do more to have the Penguins in a better spot. It has to be driving him almost mad wanting to have a greater impact in Game 6.

Not that The Kid would ever let on.

"I've got to be at my best -- just like everyone else," Crosby told the scrum of media that checked him harder yesterday than even Zetterberg has.

"These are the games when you've got to find an extra level. I'm no different. But we've got to do it together."

Funny, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma sang that very same song.

"We don't need Sidney Crosby to score to win the game. We need our team to play well. We need to get into the offensive zone and push them back on their heels and force them to deal with us. We need to get 35 shots at their goaltender. We need to win the special teams battle ...

"We need our team to play better."

Point taken.

Still, it has to start with Crosby, the captain and the hockey club's highest-paid player this season at $9 million.

It's fair to expect more.

The most noticeable thing Crosby did Saturday night in the hideous 5-0 loss in Game 5 was take a cheap whack at the back of Zetterberg's legs in the second period. That was a big part of the Penguins' uncharacteristic and hurtful meltdown, which resulted in 12 penalties, including 10-minute misconducts for Craig Adams, Max Talbot and Matt Cooke. It was sad, really. The Penguins, with all of their proven firepower, still were in the game when the silliness started. It was especially sad to see from Crosby, who's much too classy of a player to pull such a classless stunt.

"He crosschecked me earlier by the net," Crosby said. "I don't regret it."

Looked more like frustration than vengeance to me.

Either way, if Crosby doesn't keep his cool tonight, the Penguins can forget about extending the series.

But enough with the dwelling.

The Penguins have a great opportunity in Game 6, on their Mellon Arena ice, in front of their passionate 17,000-plus fanatics. It worked pretty well for them in their 4-2 victories in Games 3 and 4.

"I think we're going to bounce back. We have all year," Crosby said. "We weren't happy with that [Game 5] effort, but we've moved on ... We know we can be a lot better. We've just got to stick with things. We've had belief in our game all year. There's no time to change now."

Again, it has to start with Crosby.

Go back to Game 7 of that Washington series, on the road, in front of the Capitals' raucous Rock The Red crowd. Crosby scored the huge first goal with a fabulous individual effort, kicking the puck from his right skate to his stick and banging it into the net in the blink of an eye. He then scored the final goal of the Penguins' 6-2 victory on a marvelous breakaway after stealing the puck from Capitals star Alex Ovechkin.

That's what Crosby can do in the biggest of games.

I'm still thinking that's what he'll do tonight and in Game 7.




Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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