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Penguins' Crosby draws up winning play on fly

Gives teammates specific instructions for faceoff that led to Sheary's Game 2 OT goal against Sharks

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby took 24 faceoffs Wednesday, calling the play on each one of them.

"So I got [23] wrong tonight," Crosby said.

The one he called right helped send the Pittsburgh Penguins to San Jose with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Crosby's clean faceoff win at 2:30 of overtime created the play that led to rookie Conor Sheary's goal five seconds later that gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-0. Game 3 is at SAP Center on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Win it and the Penguins will have a chance to sweep the Sharks and win the Cup on Monday.

"He said he was going to win it to me, that's it," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "He was going to win it to me and I had to find [Sheary]."

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Sheary wins game off Letang's feed

Crosby planned this faceoff play in the seconds before taking the draw against Sharks forward Joel Ward. It was brilliant. It was his genius shining in the big moment.

He told Letang and defenseman Brian Dumoulin to switch spots. Crosby wanted Letang on the left point so he could win the faceoff back to him.

He told Letang the puck was coming to him.

He told Sheary to line up on the wall.

"We hadn't really done that before," Sheary said.

Crosby then told Sheary that when the puck got to Letang, he needed to come off the wall and find the soft spot in the middle of the zone. Crosby figured Sheary would be open because the Sharks were going to pressure Letang.

He told Letang he needed to hold the puck and let Sheary get open.

He told Letang to get the puck to Sheary.

"Found it pretty perfectly," Sheary said.

But why not tell Letang to shoot it? Letang typically would shoot in that spot, especially if he had a lane for a one-timer, which he did.

"We've done a lot of one-timers and quick shots from the point, so we knew they'd be coming hard," Crosby said.

And in that moment, because it was overtime, Crosby didn't think it wouldn't be good for Letang to have to shoot with a Sharks player coming right at him looking to block the shot. The potential for the puck to go the other way, for San Jose to get an odd-man rush, was too great.

"It's overtime, you don't necessarily want to have somebody have to make a play with a guy right in his face, especially if he's the last guy back," Crosby said. "If there's no play there, worst case, we just put it in a corner and we're not forcing anything. It was more kind of situational."

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Kessel opens scoring after turnover

Letang admitted he thought about shooting anyway because he had time. He chose not to when he saw Sharks center Logan Couture coming at him, just as Crosby predicted he would, in a blocking position with his legs closed, knees bent, hands facing out, stick out to his side.

"I had to think quick," Letang said.

So Letang thought back to what Crosby told him to do and he did it. He bypassed Couture with a pass to a wide-open Sheary in the soft spot of the zone.

Crosby knew the pass would be there.

"I think they kind of lost me when I came off the wall there," Sheary said. "I had a lot of time to shoot."

The only thing Crosby didn't predict was Sheary's shot. He sent a beauty into the back of the net before Sharks defenseman Justin Braun could close on him.

"And he had a guy coming in at him," Letang said. "He used him as a screen. It was a great shot."

It finished off the perfect play, set up because of Crosby's genius.

"It's one of those things that guys have to execute," Crosby said. "You have to make the pass, and that's exactly what they did. Usually the center kind of calls the play, and I think those guys deserve a lot more credit than me."

Crosby is being modest, but that play never happens without him drawing it up on the fly. It never happens without him having the confidence to know he was going to win the faceoff.

"He's an elite player, he believes in himself, he's confident," Letang said, "so that doesn't surprise me."

Video: Sullivan on Crosby's play, 2-1 OT win in Game 2

It shouldn't surprise anyone who watched Crosby work on faceoffs during the Penguins' optional practice Tuesday. He was one of two regulars, including forward Eric Fehr, who was on the ice for that practice.

"That's Sid," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "His work ethic is unmatched. He has an insatiable appetite to get better and be the best. I've said it on a number of occasions: He's not as good as he is by accident. He works extremely hard at it. He prides himself in the details of his game, like faceoffs."

But this wasn't just winning a faceoff. This was moving the chess pieces into position to make the faceoff win matter. This was Crosby calling the play, calling the shot, and watching Sheary finish it. This was Crosby getting it right.

"He works on every detail," Letang said, "and that's why we're a successful team."

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