PITTSBURGH (AP) -This should tell anyone how determined the Pittsburgh Penguins are to complete their Stanley Cup comeback: Sidney Crosby, the star scorer, has become Sidney Crosby, the role-playing specialist.
Their 21-year-old captain has almost been a non-factor on offense with one goal and two assists, yet the Penguins rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force a Game 7 in Detroit on Friday night.
Smothered by an effective defensive scheme in which Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and, lately, Pavel Datsyuk oppose them on nearly every shift, Crosby and Penguins co-star Evgeni Malkin don't have a point between them in two games. Before that, they were averaging a combined three points-plus per game.
Yet despite Detroit blanking the two leading scorers in the playoffs, Pittsburgh held on for a 2-1 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday to force the first finals Game 7 in Penguins history. On a night when third-line center Jordan Staal got more ice time than Crosby, the Penguins stayed alive on goals by linemates Staal and Tyler Kennedy.
With little room or time to make plays for himself, Crosby played an excellent two-way game. As the Penguins countered Zetterberg's line by often matching Staal's against it, Crosby may have contributed more defensively than he did offensively.
"As a coach, you put Sidney Crosby on the ice to win a face-off late in the game, or a penalty kill, because he's your best guy in that spot," coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday. "That says something about the player. He's just not out there to put his name on the score sheet. He does a lot of other things."
To Bylsma, Crosby's unselfishness illustrates why the game's best players can make a difference even when they're not scoring goals or setting them up.
"He's paid attention to the details. He plays defense. He's won face-offs," Bylsma said. "He can be out in those situations and that's a great luxury to have when that's one of the best players in the world."
During longtime star Jaromir Jagr's last few seasons with the Penguins, he often perplexed them by pouting or complaining when goals weren't going his way. That hasn't happened with Crosby, who had 14 goals in 17 games going into the finals but has been limited to a single shot in each of the last two games.
"He didn't have a ton of points (in Game 6), but he played his game," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "He played our system. Maybe he didn't get a whole lot offensively, but he didn't give up anything defensively. To me, that is the mark of a good leader. I'm sure he wants to make an impact on the game. But at the same time he wants to be a good team player."
Still, the Penguins probably need more than that from their signature player if they're to win Game 7, something no road team has done in the finals in 38 years.
The Penguins have been outscored 11-2 in three losses in Joe Louis Arena and 21-6 while dropping five of six in Detroit during the last two finals. The Red Wings are 11-1 at home in these playoffs, and they're going back there comforted by the knowledge the last six finals Game 7s were won by the home team.
However, the Penguins clinched their first-round series by overcoming a 3-0 deficit in Game 6 to win 5-3 in Philadelphia. They lost the first two games in Washington during the second round and also lost Game 6 at home, but won the series with a 6-2 victory in a road Game 7.
To win this game, against this team, in these circumstances - the NHL's ultimate game, Game 7 of the finals - the Penguins probably need Crosby to find a way to shed the layers of defense, get a goal or set a couple of them up. Malkin, too.
"Maybe you don't think they're doing much for the first period or a period-and-a-half, and all of a sudden they just turn it on for 30 minutes and they're unbelievable," Scuderi said. "That's the type of talent and will they have sometimes."
It may be the type of game they'll need to play on Friday.
"I think our team has proven that we're a true team, and everyone's contributing," Crosby said. "Tight games like this, there's not going to be a lot of chances, but when there is, you rely on the guy next to you to execute."
In Game 7, the Penguins' best chance to become the first team since Montreal in 1971 to go the distance in the finals and win on the road might be for Crosby and Malkin to be that guy.