Cook: Can't touch Sid The Kid for playoff excellence
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On the ice and off, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is so, so, so ...
"Mature," linemate Pascal Dupuis volunteered, helpfully.
That will work.
Especially on the Mellon Arena ice yesterday when it came time to accept the Prince of Wales trophy from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly after the Penguins became Eastern Conference champions by booting the Philadelphia Flyers into the offseason.
They won by a touchdown, 6-0.
All that was missing was Jeff Reed to kick the extra point.
But back to that trophy ...
Crosby refused to touch it.
Sid The Kid might be mature, but he's also superstitious.
"I've watched a lot of Stanley Cup playoff games," he explained. "It's a good feeling to go up there, but we all realized that's not the one we want to be holding."
That would be the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins will play Detroit or Dallas for it in the fortnight.
Make no mistake who will lead them.
"He's not our captain at age 20 for no reason," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Crosby. "He's our captain for a lot of reasons."
Added Dupuis: "Everyone knows what he can do on the ice. What brings him to another level is he's so driven. That's his main quality. He wants to win so bad."
It was there to see again yesterday when Crosby was the best player on the ice. That talk about Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury being the early favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of these playoffs? Maybe we had better hold off on that a bit.
Crosby would never ever say this publicly -- he's far too much of a team man -- but there's no way he's going to give up the Smythe without a fight.
Or the tag of best player in the world, which some of us -- yes, I'm guilty -- have prematurely passed on to Malkin.
"Sid has so much pride," teammate Gary Roberts said. "He has such a passion for the game. It's unbelievable."
It was no surprise that Crosby tortured the Flyers one more time and put them out of their misery. He was held without a point in the Penguins' 4-2 loss in Game 4 Thursday night in Philadelphia, where he had to endure the usual taunting from the always classy Flyers fans. Those people just don't get it. The more they call Crosby unthinkable names, the more it inspires him.
That and playing against the Flyers, the first team to accuse him of diving back in his rookie year.
All Crosby has done against them is have 16 goals and 21 assists in 20 regular-season games.
Now, you can add two goals and five assists in five playoff games.
It took Crosby just 2 minutes, 30 seconds yesterday to make a big impact. His slap shot on the power play careened off teammate Ryan Malone's left skate and sailed by helpless goaltender Martin Biron. Malone got credit for the goal, but Crosby did the heavy lifting.
Crosby's second assist was even more spectacular. He set up the play by backchecking and stealing the puck from Philadelphia's Mike Richards. The next thing you knew, Crosby had the puck in the Flyers' end and found linemate Marian Hossa with a sweet drop pass for a one-timer that sunk the Flyers into a 3-0 hole and made them realize just how superior their opponent was.
"Tonight, he played his best game of the series on both sides of the ice," Therrien said.
If you look at the NHL playoff scoring leaders this morning, you won't find Malkin or Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk at the top of the list. You'll see Crosby with four goals and 17 assists.
But that's not the main reason the Penguins are within four wins of the Cup.
Not for Therrien, anyway.
This goes back to the 2005-06 season when Therrien replaced Eddie Olczyk as coach. The Penguins badly needed team discipline and defensive structure.
The demanding Therrien was there to sell it, all of it.
Crosby, then an 18-year-old rookie phenom, was the first to buy it.
"When the leader of the team buys in," Therrien said, "everyone else has no choice but to follow."
So it was that the Penguins improved from 58 points in that '05-'06 season to 105 points and a first-round playoff loss to Ottawa last year to 102 points and a trip to the Cup finals this season.
"I think we did everything in our control as players to have the right attitude and to learn as much as we could as quick as we could," Crosby said.
It's not the kid's way to reflect, not now, not when the Penguins are so close to the Cup, not when the final four wins are -- as he called them -- "the toughest four to get by far."
But Crosby did allow himself one brief moment of satisfaction.
"We've come a long way," he said. "We've worked hard for it. We've earned it."
Not the Prince of Wales trophy.
Don't be ridiculous.
The chance to play for hockey's grandest prize.
You just know Crosby can't wait to get his hands on that baby.
First Published May 19, 2008 12:00 am