Cook: Crosby's legacy to soon include a Stanley Cup
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DETROIT -- Step into the middle of the Penguins' cramped locker room at Mellon Arena and your eyes immediately search for Sidney Crosby. His locker is to the far right, near the end of a long row, second one in. The first locker belongs to Mario Lemieux, preserved just so the way lockers always are for icons, which Lemieux is, and for those who die during their career. Two huge pictures hang on the adjoining wall, one of Lemieux holding the Stanley Cup high in 1991 or '92 and a second of the Cup itself. Crosby can't help but see them every day, can't help but realize how there's room for a third photo, can't help but think that a picture of him holding the precious Cup above Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar and the rest of their band of brothers would complete the set.
That thought will motivate Crosby in the next two weeks, maybe not that exact thought, but one very similar. Certainly, the will to win that smolders intensely inside him -- the all-consuming desire to be called a champion -- will motivate him against the Detroit Red Wings.
It seems as if Crosby has prepared his whole life for this challenge, this Stanley Cup final. He's ready, amped, you name it. His teammates are ready, more prepared than a year ago when the Red Wings took them down in six games in the final and had their own Kodak moments with the Cup, on Mellon Arena ice no less. The agony that went with watching Detroit's great captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, hoisting the hardware still haunts Crosby and the others.
But this is a new year, a new Cup final. It's safe to say the Penguins won't be overwhelmed early in the series the way they were last season. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury won't fall flat on his face coming onto the Joe Louis Arena ice tonight for Game 1. The Penguins won't be shut out in the first two games. They won't waste two extended five-on-three advantages in the series. They won't be outshot, 212-142. They won't be outscored in the third periods, 9-3.
They won't be denied.
All of it comes back to Crosby, a great team captain in his own right. OK, all of it but that Fleury-falling business. That's strictly up to Fleury. "I'm pretty sure that won't happen again," he said, grinning as always, the other day.
The rest of it is on Crosby, especially that won't-be-denied part.
"I've never seen him play better," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said this week.
Nor has anyone else. At this point of the playoffs, Crosby has to be the favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP. He has more goals than anyone with 14 and shares the points lead with Malkin with 28. He has tied a prized NHL record with six first goals. And he has that out-of-this-world will to win.
Now as long as the league office keeps the players out of the Smythe voting ...
Sports Illustrated took a poll of those geniuses before the playoffs and asked each to name the league's best player, teammates excluded. Washington's Alex Ovechkin was No. 1 with 51 percent of the votes, followed by Lidstrom, Malkin, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Calgary's Jerome Iginla and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg. Remarkably -- no, absurdly -- Crosby finished eighth with 1.9 percent.
"That's pretty ridiculous," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said.
"I think he's proven through these playoffs that he's the best player in the league. He and his teammate [Malkin]," Orpik said.
It's jealousy, really. The players aren't so much envious of Crosby's wondrous talent as a two-way player, a playmaker and, in these playoffs, a big-time goal-scorer. They're envious that the NHL suits chose to make him the face of the league. That can be the only explanation for Washington's Alexander Semin asking so foolishly in the fall, "What's so special about [Crosby]?"
The answer has never been clearer than it was in the first three rounds of these playoffs when Crosby led the Penguins past Philadelphia, Semin's Washington hockey club and Carolina. Now, it's about to become even more evident.
It's so hard to pick against the Red Wings in the final. They're not just the defending champions. Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg and the rest are a proud and talented bunch.
But it's even harder to pick against the Penguins when Crosby is playing like this. The next time you step back into that cramped locker room, there will be a third picture on the wall, one of a beaming Crosby holding the Cup with Malkin, Gonchar and the others huddled around him, not just a band of brothers today, but champions forever.
Penguins in six.
First Published May 30, 2009 12:00 am