Crosby has big challenge ahead

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In sports, a player becomes iconic by leading his team against all odds and willing it to a win in a game, a series, all the way to a championship.

In Pittsburgh, there have been Mario Lemieux, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, and any number of Super Steelers.

Sidney Crosby has the chance to be next.

It will be his greatest challenge.

"I don't think we're really thinking about our situation. We've just got to win the next game. That's our mindset," Crosby said.

This was late Friday night in a somber Penguins dressing room. It's probably just as well that he and his beaten-down teammates weren't concentrating on their first-round playoff predicament. Rotten is the best word to describe it after they were shocked at Consol Energy Center for the second consecutive game by the resilient Philadelphia Flyers. Just as they did in their overtime victory in Game 1, the Flyers kept coming back and coming back and coming back until they finally forced the Penguins into submission, 8-5.

It's Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's job to keep his team -- the overwhelming favorite to win the Stanley Cup just a few days ago -- together as it heads to Philadelphia Sunday for Game 3. But it's also Crosby's job. He's the team captain.

"We've got to find a way to be better with the lead," Crosby said. "We know they're going to keep coming. We know that."

The Flyers climbed out of a 3-0 hole in the second period of Game 1 and a 3-1 hole in the third period. Friday night, they kept climbing and climbing after trailing, 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4. It was hard to watch the Penguins -- loaded with all of their world-class talent -- not being able to keep up. It was hard to watch goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury-- so great all season -- not having any answers at the back end. Almost unbelievably, he fished seven pucks out of his net.

"The barrage and the quality of the guys coming at him was drastic," Bylsma said, absolving Fleury from much of the blame.

"We've got to be a tougher team to play against and get offense against."

Added Crosby: "We need to eliminate our mistakes. It's that simple. When it comes down to it, every mistake we're making ends up in our net."

Crosby has done his part on the ice and played well enough for the Penguins to be in a better spot. In Game 1, he scored the first goal of the series just 3:43 in and had an assist on the Pascal Dupuis goal that gave the Penguins their 3-0 lead. Friday night, he tied the franchise record for scoring the quickest playoff goal -- it took just 15 seconds -- by burying a pass from teammate Steve Sullivan. He also had an assist on a beautiful drop-pass to defenseman Paul Martin, who scored what should have been a crushing goal at 19:42 of the first period for a 3-1 lead.

Did I mention should have been?

Crosby also has done his part off the ice to help. Bylsma went to him Thursday and asked him about stepping down from the first power play to the second power play to make room for Sullivan on the point. It's probably the first time he has been demoted in hockey.

The refigured power play produced mixed results. It got two goals from Chris Kunitz, but it also allowed two short-handed goals. The first came when Crosby, who was on the ice, couldn't handle a bouncing puck, leading to a breakaway for the Flyers' Claude Giroux. Fleury stopped his shot, but former teammate Max Talbot was there to knock in the rebound.

"It doesn't matter where I play. I just have to make sure I'm doing my part," Crosby said.

That's a tremendous concession by the world's greatest player, who came in averaging 1.33 points per playoff game, most among active NHL players. All of the stars have egos. That self-belief is why they are stars.

"Steve has been great all year on the point and is very comfortable there," Crosby said. "It's more of a learning curve for me there. All of the other guys have been great in their spots. I'm just out there to help."

Now, it's on to Philadelphia for the Penguins. After losing two in a row at home to the Flyers, two of three in the regular season and all three last season, they can't wait to get there.

"Maybe it will be good to just get away," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You definitely feel the pressure here, especially when they tied it up. The crowd can be very beneficial and get you going, but it also can make for more pressure when things don't go well."

Crosby is the No. 1 villain in Philadelphia. He knows the crowd and the Flyers will be waiting for him. It almost always brings out his best.

"I think that's a building that brings out the best in all of us," Crosby said. "That's good. In the situation we're in, we should be a desperate team."

It's a long way back for the Penguins after this 0-2 start.

"Hey, Boston lost the first two games at home to Montreal in the first round last year and won the Stanley Cup," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said on his way to the dressing room.

Recent precedence is nice.

But if the Penguins are going to come back, Crosby has to lead them.

breaking - roncook

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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