PHILADELPHIA -- That was a really nice gesture Wednesday by Philadelphia Flyers forward Max Talbot, rushing to the defense of Penguins star Sidney Crosby after the Philadelphia Daily News put out a cover sheet that was more juvenile and embarrassing to the newspaper profession than it was humorous or hurtful to Crosby. But Talbot, a good pal of Crosby since the two were kids, knows the truth better than anyone. In this town, Crosby is more than capable of taking care of himself.
With the usual venomous "Crosby Sucks!" chants pouring down on him Wednesday night from the Wells Fargo Center crowd of 20,172, the Penguins captain put together a one-goal, two-assist performance to lead the Penguins to a touchdown win -- 10-3 -- against the Flyers to force a Game 5 Friday night in Pittsburgh in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series. They just don't get it here. The more they abuse Crosby -- "Public Enemy No. 1 in this city," according to Flyers winger Scott Hartnell -- the better he plays against their team.
The Cowardly Penguin?
I don't think so.
"He has had some pretty good games in this building, hasn't he?" Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik asked facetiously.
Crosby's name was taken in vain at least a million times since Sunday when the Flyers beat the Penguins, 8-4, in Game 3 to take a 3-0 lead in the series. Crosby fought Flyers star Claude Giroux in the first period and was in the middle of a number of scrums in a violence-filled third period, which ultimately led to suspensions for Craig Adams and James Neal. At one point, Crosby, in a childish move, pushed away Flyers winger Jakub Voracek's glove as Voracek bent to pick it up. "I don't like him," an angry, frustrated Crosby said afterward. "I don't like anyone on their team."
Do you think that sound bite made the Philadelphia sports talk shows?
Ridiculing Crosby became a popular way to pass the time, even more so than usual. The Daily News hit rock bottom with its Wednesday cover, portraying Crosby in a lion's costume in a takeoff from "Wizard of Oz." "The Cowardly Penguin" was the headline. "Time To Finish Off Sniveling Sidney."
"I think it's a stupid cover," Talbot said at the morning skate. "That doesn't reflect what Sidney Crosby is."
Crosby said he was given a copy of the paper and shrugged off the character assassination.
"It's not the first time something like that's happened," he said. "I'm not surprised that it happened here. It's no big deal ...
"I don't get caught up in that stuff. It's talk. That's all it is."
Crosby insisted he is no more motivated to play against the Flyers than he is any other team. His career numbers say otherwise. In 19 regular-season games in Philadelphia, he had 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points. In six playoff games, he has four goals and six assists for 10 points.
"They'll keep screaming at him. He'll keep playing," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Crosby was almost defiant in the three days after Game 3. He said if people thought the Penguins embarrassed themselves with their out-of-character cheap shots in that third game, well, that was their opinion, but the Flyers weren't exactly angels, either. He said he and his team were focused only on playing a strong Game 4 and extending the series.
So it happened even though the Penguins were severely short-handed, playing without the suspended Neal, Adams and Arron Asham.
"Everybody played well tonight," Crosby said. "We gave ourselves a chance to get back to Pittsburgh. That's all we could ask for tonight. But we've got to do it again and again and again. That's the playoffs. That's the situation we're in."
Said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette: "They seemed to have a little more jump in their step than we did. ... That team is a very talented group and came out and were a desperate team. They were better than us tonight."
Crosby did his part. He had an assist on a Matt Niskanen goal for a 2-1 Penguins lead. He re-directed a Niskanen shot for the goal that tied the score, 3-3. He then set up Kris Letang for a power-play goal that gave the Penguins a 5-3 lead.
It seems appropriate to bring back words from Bylsma from before the series. This was after it seemed as if everyone was piling on Crosby, from Laviolette to Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube to New York Rangers coach John Tortorella to NBC broadcaster Mike Milbury.
"I would think that experience says that talking about Sidney Crosby hasn't been a good thing in the past for the opposition," Bylsma said. "I'm not sure I would be talking too loud if I was trying to get him off his game."
That's sound advice.
No wonder Talbot was so upset when he saw the morning paper.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 19, 2012 8:15 AM