Sidney Crosby celebrates his game-winning goal with Matt Cullen. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ever wonder what it feels like to be under hundreds of microscopes? Just ask Sidney Crosby, since that has been the story of his life over the past couple of weeks.
Truthfully it has been the story of his career.
Every time he says or does anything on the ice, fans, reporters and peers from around North America analyze it. He is compensated handily to deal with things like that, but that compensation is why so many have him under that microscope to begin with.
Players like Crosby are paid the big dollars to score goals. No one notices leadership or solid defensive play when the paycheck features a lot of zeros. Everyone wants to see goals.
The current wave of criticism was the result of the fact that he hadn’t scored a goal in eight consecutive playoff games coming into Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night. ESPN even tweeted a statistic showing that he’d gone 31 postseason periods without a goal.
That stretched to 32, but the counter has been reset compliments of the first postseason overtime goal of his career. He beat Andrei Vasilevskiy just 40 seconds into the extra frame to even the Eastern Conference Final at one game apiece.
“That’s a huge goal for our team,” Patric Hornqvist, who scored the game-winner in Game 4 against the Capitals, said. “It was a perfect play to get it, too. You guys are all over him and I think he’s top five in scoring in the playoffs. Now, he got the big one. He’s got the biggest goal of the year.”
Crosby actually ranks 15th in playoff scoring, but Hornqvist’s point was well made. The Penguins captain has been doing just about everything else right.
He has been more vocal than he’s ever been in the past and he’s been playing a solid two-way game. That might not have resulted in a ton of points, but he has been pushing his team to play their best and it’s a big reason why they’re in the Eastern Conference final to begin with.
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who is never shy about speaking his mind, was quick to support his captain and explained that while the critics might be chirping, the entire team is in step behind him.
“I wouldn’t say it was wearing on him,” Lovejoy said when asked if Crosby was feeling the heat. “I think that he knows he’s under the microscope. He’s our unquestioned leader. He has led us into the third round and it’s 1-1 right now. He scored a gigantic goal right now. He expects and everyone in this room expects him to keep going.”
Players like Crosby have a knack for making those around them better, but having a rookie on his wing could have been affecting him negatively. He has been playing with Conor Sheary since the opening round of the playoffs, but the latter has dried up.
Sheary had just two points over his past eight games and has misfired on several Crosby set-ups over that time. That kept each player from getting on the board.
That isn’t an excuse so much as a statement of fact.
Crosby weathered that situation. He worked to help Sheary break out of his own slump and never complained. He went about his business and put even more pressure on himself, especially when coach Mike Sullivan opted to reunite he and Evgeni Malkin on several occasions Monday night.
“I think the message is go create something,” Crosby said. “Get some momentum. Hopefully with putting us together it forces one of us to get some time and space and hopefully just create something, create a play and get some momentum in there."
Neither player broke through when they were cast together, but Crosby’s goal could be the thing that sparks this team moving forward. Sullivan was thrilled for his captain and loved that it capped a team effort.
“I think it's a big boost for Sid. I think it's a big boost for our team. Obviously this is an important win for us to even the series, but I thought it was a collective effort.”