Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins after scoring in the third period against the Washington Capitals in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 3, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — As the final moments of Thursday night’s ugly and sometimes grisly Game 4 arrived and the Washington Capitals made their final push to erase a one-goal deficit, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby made one of the most aesthetically pleasing plays of the night.
Crosby, of course, made it look routine.
He was near the side boards as the puck was flung high into the air. He glided toward it and snatched it out of the air as oncoming traffic barreled his way — Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had his rival in his crosshairs — but Crosby simply tossed the puck to the ice, glided past Ovechkin and passed the puck across center ice to teammate Jake Guentzel.
His play slammed the door shut on the Capitals and secured a 3-1 Penguins win to tie the series at 2, with Guentzel at 19:02 firing Crosby’s pass into the empty net that Washington had abandoned in hopes of tying the score. It was the second goal of the night for Guentzel, who leads the league in postseason scoring.
It was only appropriate that Crosby was involved: He has been on the ice for all 10 of Pittsburgh’s goals in this series, helping shepherd yet another breakout postseason performance by Guentzel and anchoring a Pittsburgh lineup that has dealt with attrition and a lack of secondary scoring against the Capitals.
“I think you have confidence in whoever you play with [that] they’re going to play their role and do what they do and contribute in any way that they need to,” said Crosby, who essentially deflected any praise.
Crosby — and Ovechkin, for that matter — failed to put a shot on goal in Game 4, but it was Pittsburgh’s top line that produced in a game that was sometimes short on offense. There were the two goals by Guentzel, with Crosby assisting on each, and Evgeni Malkin had a second-period power-play goal that was only ruled good after a video review.
It was Crosby who helped anchor that power play and who had informed Malkin that it would indeed be ruled a goal after looking at a replay near the bench, providing a calming effect during a drawn-out process as the Capitals challenged the call for goaltender interference.
“Sid told me,” Malkin said. “He was looking at the replay on the bench, and he told me it should be a good goal.”
Said Guentzel: “I think it shows how focused and dialed in he is right now. He leads the charge.”
It was Crosby who anchored his team through the attrition that came late in its first-round series against Philadelphia; Malkin and forward Carl Hagelin were injured and missed the early part of the series with Washington. Malkin returned for Game 3 on Tuesday, and Hagelin was back in the lineup for Game 4, which only helped bolster a lineup that has struggled to score amid a slump from Phil Kessel. Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan moved around his lineup Thursday to try to get more production; that included using Hagelin, Malkin and Patric Hornqvist as the starting forwards.
Crosby, with 19 points in this postseason and two goals and four assists against the Capitals, has let the Penguins power through those issues. He had a hand in each of Pittsburgh’s three third-period goals as it rallied to capture Game 1 in Washington. To even the series Thursday, he helped spark Guentzel but also won 12 of 18 faceoffs.
“He always elevates his game. Whatever our team needs,” Sullivan said. “If we need a center iceman to take a faceoff and defend a one-goal game when it’s a six-on-five situation, he’s the guy. If we need a goal and there’s a faceoff in the offensive zone, he’s the guy. That’s the player that he is for us. I think that’s what separates him from any other player in the game.”