The Pittsburgh Penguins
played follow the leader Wednesday night and Sidney Crosby
did his part by giving his team life in the Stanley Cup Final.
After two games of trying but failing, the Penguins' 20-year-old captain lifted his team on his shoulders with a dominant performance in what was easily the most exciting game so far in this highly-anticipated championship series.
Crosby scored two goals, the Penguins' first two of the Final, to give his team a cushion that eventually led to a 3-2 win. The victory cut Pittsburgh's deficit in half heading into Game 4 on Saturday night and guaranteed a return trip to Detroit for Game 5 next week.
"Personally you just want to make sure you're leading by example and doing your job out there," Crosby said. "That's all I was basically trying to do. It's not hard to get up for a game this big."
Crosby played nearly 20 hard minutes and was credited with three shots and only one hit, but it just had to be more than that because every shift he was playing the body and backchecking hard.
It was the performance that a legion of hockey fans were waiting for from the kid most widely associated as the face of the National Hockey League.
"Good players, when the challenge is there, they like to play these type of games," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
Penguins winger Ryan Malone said he had never seen Crosby as focused for a game as he was prior to Game 3. It was a quiet confidence Crosby was exuding to his teammates, but his play was about as loud as it gets.
"When you see guys like that throwing body checks and backchecking and doing all the little things it takes to win in the Final," said Adam Hall, who scored the game-winning goal, "it inspires every guy down the bench and we build off that momentum."
But it took a quick line juggle from Therrien to get Crosby and the Penguins going. With roughly five and a half minutes to play in the first period and the Penguins once again struggling to establish any kind of sustained pressure – at this point they had just one shot on goal, and it came on the power play – Therrien sent Crosby out with Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa.
The Penguins' three most talented players were charged with changing the tenor of the game. They succeeded.
"When we're put together we know what the message is," Crosby said. "We need to create opportunities. We tried to do that. When you have three players who can create things like that your job is to make things happen. Nothing has to be said. That's our job and our responsibility to our team."
The talented trio kept the puck in the zone. Hossa had a shot on goal, the Penguins' first even strength shot of the game. The buzzing Mellon Arena crowd, which was just waiting for something spectacular, was rocking when the trio left the ice.
"It's a good shift," Crosby said, "but it's up to the next guys to keep it going."
Malone, Jordan Staal and Petr Sykora did.
More sustained pressure. Another shot on goal.
Soon after Crosby was back on the ice, this time with Hossa and Jarkko Ruutu, and the puck was still deep in the Red Wings' zone. Brad Stuart was trying to clear it with a pass to Henrik Zetterberg, but he lost control of it. Hossa got the puck close to the net and Crosby did the rest.
He came in off the left post and squeezed the puck through Chris Osgood's legs with 2:35 to play in the first period.
It was a Pittsburgh goal, a Pittsburgh lead.
"Tried to change momentum and tried to bring more speed," Therrien said as to why he put Crosby, Malkin and Hossa together for that one shift. "I think we really took over that period, and we were capable to bring that momentum to the second period."
Crosby, who scored again on the power play just 2:34 into the second period to make it 2-0, tried hard to downplay his performance. His teammates didn't.
"He definitely led the way here tonight," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "He's a quiet leader in terms of what he says in the locker room and stuff, but he is obviously the leader of this team and leads by example."
Added Malkin, via his translator: "It's pretty easy to play with somebody like Crosby. He's the best player and you just have to make yourself open and he's going to do everything else."
Therrien said Crosby simply rose to the challenge, which wasn't a surprise.
"We approach it like a challenge," Therrien said. "And, there's no doubt that you're looking for your best player to bring his A-game. Sid did that tonight."
He definitely tried in Games 1 and 2, so much that Crosby said Wednesday morning that he wouldn't change anything in his game. All he said was he wanted to capitalize on his chances.
He scored twice on three shots after getting no goals on his first nine of the series.
That's capitalizing. That's big-time.
"He was Sidney Crosby. We don't expect anything less than that," Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. "Maybe that's stupid to say, but that's what he is. He is a gamer. He is a warrior. He is the leader of our team. How he played this game, we couldn't do it without him. He was doing so much and it gave us life and energy. That's why I love the guy. He's awesome."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com