PITTSBURGH -- Having stumbled down the stretch and secured a playoff berth on the final night of the regular season with a win against the NHL's worst team,Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby could have been a little bit more reserved, subdued, perhaps even downright surly as his team heads toward a first-round showdown with the New York Rangers -- the team that shocked Pittsburgh a year ago by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Penguins in seven games in front of their hometown fans. Instead, Crosby was downright buoyant as he candidly discussed the Pens' shiny past, unsettled future and his home-court shuffleboard edge.
BURNSIDE: Your team has been in the playoffs every year since you got here, except the first year. What do you remember of your first playoff game, in 2007?
CROSBY: It's so easy to remember that game. It's unbelievable. I remember being so -- just so pumped up to be in the playoffs. You forget it's seven games possibly, you know what I mean? It's that one game, you just feel like that's it. And it's like that, every game is important, but I remember just being so pumped up. And we were so many young guys on that team and we were playing Ottawa and they had a ton of experience. I remember that first 10 minutes, it felt like they had 10 guys on the ice. They were just buzzing around. We had no clue. As amped up as we were -- and people were talking about maybe the inexperience will almost help [us] because [we] won't feel the pressure. No. It was a good lesson. A good lesson. That first game it was like, OK, this is what it's about. Great lesson. Like, obviously you wish you would have went further at the time, but looking back at it, you needed to go through that. It needed to happen.
BURNSIDE: What do you love about the playoffs?
CROSBY: I love that it's all about team. Obviously, you want to help your team. Individually, you want to do your best and produce, but it's just all about what you can do for the guy next to you and ... the ups and downs, how you can rally. As much as you want all the good, it's how you react to some of the bad that happens. You really go through little building blocks or little tests along the way. When we lost to Detroit that year [in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals], I know it was a terrible feeling, but you're really proud of what you were able to go through. Then to kind of repeat the same thing and the same process, identical, and then kind of react a little bit different and learn from that [with a win in 2009]. I think all those little stepping stones along the way -- obviously it's to win -- but it's all those little things that you kind of overcome, and the ups and downs getting through that stuff is pretty fun.
BURNSIDE: I talked to Brad Richards recently about the playoffs, and he said that having lost in the finals last year -- which really sucks -- but he said even when they won in '04 with the Lightning, there was sort of a moment of not sadness but just, geez, it's over. Did you feel that in 2009?
CROSBY: Yeah. Because it's all about the run. You get that excitement and you hit the peak when [you] finally do win, but it's the whole journey. It's what you kind of learn about yourself and your team and what you go through. Of course, when you remember it, you remember all the good things. It's so funny because you remember, 'Oh, remember how good we were,' but you don't remember the two games you dropped in Washington or the two games you dropped in Detroit, and you're thinking, 'Oh, here we go again, maybe.'
BURNSIDE: What's the past month been like because this is a new experience for you and really for this team, barely getting into the playoffs?
CROSBY: It was difficult. It was difficult. I think that it was a totally different challenge, a totally different place than what we've been in. When I talk about 'we,' I'm talking about a lot of the guys who've been here for a long time. But when you look at it, we have a lot of new players, a lot of new faces, a lot of turnover, a coaching staff -- there's a lot of things that are new. So, I think having to go through that together, I think the fact that we've had so many injuries made it really tough. When you have this many new guys in one year, you really have to rebuild that identity and everyone has to get really comfortable in their role, and the fact is it's been really tough to do that.
Somebody who's typically in maybe a PK checking role is now in a scoring role and playing with five D down the stretch, where you know a guy might typically be looked upon to join the rush and now he's thinking, well, I can't join the rush as much, I've got to conserve energy. It just puts a little bit more challenges involved with all the things that go into trying to build towards the playoffs. Definitely every team goes through that, but I think with the amount of new faces we've had this year, just really trying to find that identity has been tough; not because we don't have the guys to do it, tough just because [of] the situation that's kind of presented itself.
But I think we handled it pretty good. Guys stayed pretty calm. It's not a fun situation to be in when you know you think everything's going pretty well and you start to struggle down the stretch, but I thought given all the different situations, I thought it would have been easy to panic and guys to kind of veer away from the plan, and I thought we just stuck with it the whole way through and end up getting rewarded, and now we all start fresh.
BURNSIDE: Did you think about what it would be like to miss the playoffs?
CROSBY: You know what? It felt like the playoffs this past week and a half. It literally felt like a playoff series. I think like a playoff series, you don't allow yourself to think about the result too much, you just try and go out there and give yourself the best chance to win the game and focus on the details that it's going to take. But you really don't allow yourself, your mind to wander too much. I thought there were times where it was a lot more difficult because we were getting down there. The clock was ticking and teams were getting points and Ottawa's on this amazing run. The leads that we had where we thought, 'OK, we're going to be able to seal it here, seal it there.' I don't know how many times I felt like, 'Oh, OK, this is the game where we can kind of take a deep breath here and we can kind of just breathe a little bit.' But it didn't work out that way and hopefully it's something that helps us here going into the first round. I think it might be something to be able to just transition into the playoffs and hopefully make it a little bit easier.
BURNSIDE: Maybe you guys don't even care, but this will be the first time since '07 that you're the distinct underdog. The expectations are very modest for this team. You guys must be aware of that. Do you care? What it's like to be in that situation?
CROSBY: A lot of people have brought that up. Regardless of what it's been like in the past, I think we've always tried to just stay away from them [the expectations] anyway. We know what we have to do as a team to be successful. There are pros and cons to both, to be honest with you. And I think we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and there are a lot of expectations on our team, regardless of whether we're the underdog or not -- there are still expectations. I think having to deal with that all season long is something that hopefully helps us here. That's nothing new for us, but the fact that we aren't going in [having played] the last five, 10 games just trying to stay healthy and just kind of counting them down and maybe losing that edge a little bit -- the fact we're going in fighting, I'm not too disappointed about that. It's not a bad thing.
BURNSIDE: Do you think about '09 often? Do you find yourself thinking about winning the Cup and that run?
CROSBY: I don't. I don't as much. I think the first couple of years after you do, especially when you have a lot of similar guys on the team, it's hard not to. Everyone kind of has their mold, they know what they're supposed to do, it's worked and you've won. That's the way it goes. I think with time and with changeover you start to think about it less and less. What worked in '09 and how the game was then doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work in '15. I think that's one thing I have definitely learned. I don't think it happens the same way twice. It takes different things.
The things that go into winning, they don't change, but I think the way in which you get there is never usually the same. It's always different, different ways. Your team is made up differently. Different things happen. There's different injuries to your own team, there's different injuries to other teams. I remember when we won in '09, I remember some of the injuries. I mean we lost Gonch [Sergei Gonchar], and like I say, you remember the great times, you remember we had that great series against Washington and we won in seven, but you don't remember thinking, 'Oh, my God, we just lost Gonch.' But who emerges? [Alex] Goligoski, and [he] has a great couple of games filling in for Gonch. It's just you can't really get caught up in comparing, and that's really something that I've learned.
BURNSIDE: I think we do that, though, we look at '08 and '09 as almost a package, and it's probably the same in Detroit.
CROSBY: Yeah. Exactly.
BURNSIDE: So is it hard when you think '08, '09 -- all that happened there, and then for five straight years you don't get back there and you lose to teams that are lower in the standings. I know that that doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it is still what it is. Is it hard to balance the two?
CROSBY: It's hard to replicate it. Like I said, the details and understanding the experience and the ability for someone to have to step in and play a big role, or the big plays, or Flower [goalie Marc-Andre Fleury] stealing a game, or your penalty kill being lights-out in a series to steal you a series -- understanding those factors are important, and it might take a different thing every time. I think that's what you really have to draw from. We don't need another Hal Gill or nobody has to be Max Talbot. We just have to be who we are and trust that. That's what allowed us to win then, and that's what will allow us to win again.
BURNSIDE: When you haven't had success, has it taken a toll on you?
CROSBY: It's tough to say. At the time it's very difficult. Those days when you're out and you're talking about that Boston series [in 2013] and you're in the conference final and you're that close. I look back to all those, they're all different. When I look back to Montreal [in 2010], I think we could have made a great run that year, we just ran out of gas. It was an Olympic year. I don't feel like we got cheated, I felt like we did everything we could; it wasn't going to happen that year. I thought we did a lot of good things. The other year  I had the concussion, Geno [Evgeni Malkin] was hurt, we ran into injuries, Tampa had that great run. It was just one of those things. When we lost in the first round to Philly [in 2012], that was difficult. That was a tough one. I felt like we just didn't find our rhythm, for whatever reason.
Last year's was an awful feeling. You have the Rangers on the ropes and you know they end up going all the way -- it's just we had a lot of good things, but that's the game. Of course it's frustrating. I think as a team and individually, you pour everything you have into the playoffs. The margin for error is so small, the teams are so close. Look at L.A. L.A.'s the best example. Who would want to play L.A.? And they're not in the playoffs. And you look at Boston. They're a very good team, experienced, they have Stanley Cup winners, they have depth, they have goaltending. They have the whole package. And they're not in. You need to appreciate the opportunity you have of making the playoffs. It's up to you to do something once you get there, because it's wide open.
BURNSIDE: Where's the Stanley Cup ring?
CROSBY: It's in a safe.
BURNSIDE: Is it with the gold medals?
CROSBY: Yeah. That's all together. I don't wear -- I think I've worn it once. It's big, too [laughs].
BURNSIDE: I'm having trouble imagining, 'Oh, today's a Stanley Cup ring day, where am I going to wear that?'
CROSBY: I've seen different people wear it and it's much smaller. I rememberWendell Young who played here, he's got two and he put his both together and I think mine was still the same size. He was giving me a hard time about it. It was funny.
I'd say the time I'll probably wear it is probably if we ever have a get-together, anniversary kind of thing -- I'd definitely throw it on for that. Until then, that's probably the next time I'll wear it.
BURNSIDE: You've been in your own place for two or three years now. Do you have the guys over?
CROSBY: My house was getting built so last year I didn't really feel comfortable having anybody in it because there was like a couch and a bed and there wasn't much to it. But this year I had a Super Bowl party and it was great to have everybody over. We had a good time. I like doing that stuff. I like getting the guys together.
BURNSIDE: What's the one thing in your house guys might come away surprised that you have?
CROSBY: I don't think there's anything that's surprising that they would think that I'd have. I've been real lucky. I always wanted to be a firefighter if I didn't play hockey and I've got a couple of helmets that I've gotten as gifts, so maybe that's something they probably wouldn't have known.
BURNSIDE: Have you got a shuffleboard table?
CROSBY: I do. Yeah. I like that game a lot.
BURNSIDE: Bank or straight?
CROSBY: Yeah, just straight. I have one in Canada, one here, and the one here is more of a professional board than a recreational one and they just slide everywhere. So guys took a while to get the speed down so I got the homers table, so I'm pretty good, I do pretty well.
BURNSIDE: Do you feel old? You've been in the NHL for 10 years. Does it seem like that long to you?
CROSBY: Yeah. Some days it does. When I see [Jaromir] Jagr sign [a contract extension for next season], it's just astonishing to me. To think he came in at 18 years old. I just have no idea how he's doing that. It's incredible. I think I have more of an appreciation of the guys who continue to do what they're doing at later stages of their career. I don't think I really understood it when I was younger, and I think it was more common to see guys play at that age. When I first started, Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Lyle Odelein -- all the guys that I would have played with that first year would have been in that tier. And I think that now it's a little less common. But to see [Teemu] Selanne, to do what he did right til the end, and to see Jagr sign today and see the second half he had in Florida and to still be producing. Every time you turn on the TV, he's passing somebody [in the all-time scoring list]. It's incredible.
There's been a lot of stuff I think I've learned, but the cool part, I feel like I've learned just as much this year ... not any more than I would have learned at 18, different stuff, but I feel like I'm learning every year so I like that.