Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck against Roman Josi #59 of the Nashville Predators early in Game Five of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on June 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — There is a framed newspaper page on the wall of the press box at PPG Paints Arena with the championship headline: “It’s Mario’s Team.”
It will soon be time for another page, another frame, a new headline: “It’s Sidney’s Team.”
It’s also Sidney Crosby’s time.
It’s now just a matter of days.
Crosby is one win away from having won one more Stanley Cup than the great Mario Lemieux managed in his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are streets and buildings and places all over Pittsburgh with Lemieux’s name on them.
“The good thing,” said general manager Jim Rutherford, “this is a big city. There are lots of building and streets here. There are plenty of places to put Sidney’s name.”
The Stanley Cup victory, maybe Sunday, maybe next Wednesday, will be Crosby’s third. Lemieux, now part owner of the Penguins, won two. Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, won four. Crosby is about to line up between them, alongside Jonathan Toews: Tied soon with Cup championships and Olympic gold medals.
This is a most special time for this very special player.
He came out for this game of magnificent importance with a magnificent presence. The first shift. It all started in the first minute. In the Pittsburgh dressing room after the 6-0 whitewash, several players talked about the beginning.
Crosby was faster than everybody on the ice at a very loud and enthused PPG arena. He was quicker. He was smarter. He was more intense. He was more skilled.
He was the leader and he was the show. And the rest of the Penguins lined up, as they should, right behind him.
“I’ve been here for two years and I’ve really been impressed with just about everything about him,” said the 40-year-old, Matt Cullen. “Everybody has seen how he plays. Everybody knows how he plays. I am so impressed with the way he stepped up.
“He’s one of those unique players. He has that sense when it’s time to raise his level, and he’s one of the very few that can raise his level that high. Seeing the way he started the game, took the team on his shoulders and he said, follow me. It’s fun to see, fun to be a part of.”
Goaltender Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is congratulated by teammate Matt Cullen #7 after their 6-0 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game Five of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on June 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvannia. The Penguins lead the series 3-2. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Crosby didn’t score a goal in the 6-0 win. He set up Justin Schultz for a power-play score in the second minute of the game, after a penalty was taken against him. He set up the otherwise invisible Conor Sheary for his second goal of the playoffs in the second period. He drew an assist on Phil Kessel’s second period goal. He hit the post once. He set up Jake Guentzel for what should have been another goal or more.
He had three points. He could have had five. Maybe six.
And scoring was just part of what he did. Soon, he should have a third Cup and a second Conn Smythe Trophy. This is his team. Evgeni Malkin might have more points, he doesn’t have more impact. He hasn’t taken over games when they needed to be taken over. He hasn’t grabbed his teammates and pulled them along for the ride.
One player isn’t supposed to be able to change a game the way Crosby does. Goalies can do that. But a centre such as Crosby spends more time on the bench that he ever does on the ice.
Crosby spent 42 minutes on the bench, 18 on the ice: This isn’t Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals. This isn’t LeBron James. They play 40 minutes plus.
Crosby plays half of that most playoff nights: And Thursday night you couldn’t take your eyes off him.
“He led our team from the drop of the puck,” said Bryan Rust, the winger.
“We saw Sidney’s first shift,” said Chris Kunitz, who for years played alongside Crosby, just not anymore. “He was better at every single facet of the game.”
And between interruptions, odd games, and through a frightfully one-sided Stanley Cup game — the Penguins have outscored Nashville 15-4 in three games here and the Predators must win a game at PPG to win the Cup — the one constant is Crosby. He didn’t just make sweet music: He sang, he danced, he played saxophone and conducted the orchestra.
This has been a Stanley Cup final without a memorable game. There have been no overtimes. There have been no signature games or signature moments. There has been a signature player.
“From the opening shift,” said coach Mike Sullivan. In the biggest game. The first minute. The series changer.
Sidney Crosby makes everything possible. He has his Pittsburgh Penguins within one win of another Stanley Cup.