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Crosby raises his game -- again

Wednesday, 05.13.2009 / 10:46 PM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

WASHINGTON -- Maxime Talbot first met Sidney Crosby when he was 16 and Crosby was 13. It was at a summer camp in Los Angeles run by their shared agent.

Crosby was just starting to build a name in the hockey world as a prodigy. But Talbot knew even then just what he was seeing -- greatness.

"He already had this fire in his eyes," said Talbot.

But even Talbot couldn't have realized just what was to come over the next eight years.

In that time, Crosby has dominated at every level of hockey -- midget, junior and the NHL. And as good as he's been in his short pro hockey career -- a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Lester B. Pearson Award in four seasons -- he's raised his game to still another level during the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crosby has been compared with Alex Ovechkin almost non-stop since the two arrived in the NHL together in 2005. Each has won major awards, each has guided his team into the playoffs -- but not until this year's Eastern Conference Semifinal series have the two been matched up head-to-head.

After seven rounds, it's no contest -- Crosby by knockout.

"You look at the way Sid leads and has the fire in his eyes," Talbot said. "I think by winning that Game 7 Sid won that battle."

Crosby finished the series-within-a-series with 8 goals and 13 points. Ovechkin, no slouch, matched Crosby with 8 goals and added 6 assists to outscore Crosby, 14-13. But when it mattered most, in Game 7 at Verizon Center, it was Crosby scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist as the Pens skated away with a dominating 6-2 victory.

Ovechkin scored the Caps' first goal, but it was his turnover that allowed Crosby to skate in alone for a power-play goal 2:02 into third period that completed the Penguins' scoring.

The breakaway off a turnover he helped create is what makes Crosby such a special superstar. He's not just a scorer. He makes his teammates better, he backchecks diligently, blocks shots, and fights for every inch of ice.

"He's unbelievable," teammate Craig Adams told NHL.com. "I've had the opportunity to play with some pretty good players, and the one thing they all share in common is they're ultra, ultra competitive. Sid's a pretty soft-spoken guy and he's not going to come out and make this series about him and Ovechkin, but he's a competitive guy. You know he wants to win. I thought he was just unbelievable every game."

It was Crosby's third multigoal game in this year's postseason, and two of them have come in the Penguins' biggest games of the playoffs -- Game 6 of the first round against Philadelphia, when he scored the game-tying goal and an empty-netter to close out the Flyers in Philadelphia, and Wednesday in Washington.

"There's a steely resolve about the character in question when big games come around," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "Game 6 in Philadelphia -- I didn't know quite what it meant, but I knew it meant he was going to have a big game. And he was that way for every game this series going in. He was focused and knew the opportunity he had and he did a great job on a big stage."

Penguins TV broadcaster Bob Errey won a pair of Stanley Cups playing with Mario Lemieux and has watched almost every game of Crosby's career.

"He's a big-time player," Errey told NHL.com. "He's the leader of the hockey club. If there's one player I want, if you give me that vote today, I'll take Sidney Crosby. He's great on and off the ice, he's great for his teammates. He goes into the dirty areas to score goals, he scores big goals. We didn't know what he'd do in a Game 7, but we're not surprised by what he's doing here. I'm not surprised."

 
Of all the superlative plays Crosby has made, Errey said the play he made on the game's first goal -- the third time in four games in Washington that Crosby scored the game's first goal -- was a mark of his excellence. He kicked the rebound of Sergei Gonchar's point shot onto his stick and shoveled it into the net to start the Pens' onslaught.

"To me he's the best player I've seen use his hands and feet to ever play the game," Errey said. "Again tonight, using his right foot to get the puck to his stick -- that was on purpose, that wasn't luck. He practices that. It doesn't come natural … he works on all those things. That's why to me he's greatest player in the game."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.

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