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Round 1

Sidney Crosby worried about Cup, not legacy

Center tries to surpass Mario Lemieux, win third championship with Penguins

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Sidney Crosby looked up and listened intently to the start of the question, likely knowing full well what was about to come.

What would it mean to you and your legacy to surpass Mario Lemieux by winning the Stanley Cup for the third time as the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Crosby, who hates talking about himself, his legacy and how eventually it will compare to Lemieux's, let himself laugh, just a little, after hearing the question.

"I don't think about it that way at all," Crosby said. "I mean, what he did and everything that he's won is pretty amazing so I don't try to compare myself to him. But knowing that this is my 12th year and I'm probably not going to play another 12 years so you want it."

Crosby got it last season, with a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance and his second Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins' fourth.

He and the Penguins arguably are as good now as they were then, so though it is not his favorite topic, Crosby never may have a better chance to pass Lemieux than he does this season.

 

[RELATED: Penguins-Blue Jackets coverage | Series preview | Cullen is Penguins' X-factor | Why Penguins will win Cup]

 

The Penguins open the Stanley Cup Playoffs with an Eastern Conference First Round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Game 1 is Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports).

"We have a good group that's back from last year and we have an opportunity just like everyone else," Crosby said. "But you understand the situation and you want to make sure you make the most of every opportunity."

Crosby starts the playoffs after leading the NHL with 44 goals. It's his first solo Rocket Richard Trophy after he shared it with the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos after scoring an NHL career-best 51 goals in 2009-10.

He was tied for second in the League with 89 points, finishing 11 behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, arguably the only player with a better chance of winning the Hart Trophy than Crosby.

"He's the best player in the game," said New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who won the Stanley Cup with Crosby and the Penguins last season. "He has been for 10 years. I think in this social media era people love to tear superstars down. You see it with LeBron James. You see it with Tom Brady. All-time greats who people are constantly trying to pick at. LeBron will never be Michael Jordan. Sid will never be [Wayne] Gretzky or Mario. I don't think it's fair. I think games are analyzed shift by shift now and he is so good every shift.

"Winning Stanley Cups is really hard and he's done it twice and been the unquestioned leader twice. And his teams are constantly the best teams in the NHL. He is head and shoulders better than everybody else so far in his career and I think that he will continue to challenge for Stanley Cups and he will probably win one or two more, maybe more. His legacy should be he's the greatest player of his era by far."

That's likely what it will be whenever he's done, but it's way more interesting to play the Sid vs. Mario game.

"It's not fair," said Phil Bourque, a former Penguins defenseman and current Penguins radio analyst. "But it makes for a fun conversation, a good read."

Crosby, of course, won't fuel it. He'll turn 30 in August and is old enough to leave a legacy if he retired today, but too young to spend much time thinking about what he's done. For now, he says, all he cares about is being a good teammate and a good pro.

"I just try to make sure as a group we're in it together and that I'm leading by example," he said.

Which brings us back to last season. Crosby led by example and helped carry the Penguins to the top. In the process he said the run made him appreciate the grind of the playoffs, especially overcoming injuries and adversity, more than he had in the previous six years.

Crosby hadn't gone through a full playoff run since 2009, when the Penguins won their first Stanley Cup with him as captain.

"When you win right away you just remember that last series, the feeling of winning, all that is fresh in your mind," he said. "When you have time to let it sink in you realize that everything wasn't just perfect along the way. It feels that way when you win. It feels that everything came together. But there were some challenges along the way that we had to overcome."

Video: PIT@TOR: Crosby nets one-timer from Guentzel for PPG

The Penguins started the playoffs last year against the New York Rangers, who had eliminated them the previous two springs. Third-string goalie Jeff Zatkoff started Game 1. Evgeni Malkin missed it. They won and eliminated the Rangers in five games.

They had to face Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the second round. Defenseman Kris Letang was suspended for Game 4. Pittsburgh won that game, and the series in six.

Defenseman Trevor Daley broke his ankle in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, ending his season. Pittsburgh faced elimination going back to Tampa for Game 6. It won in seven, just as Malkin had predicted a day before Game 6.

The Penguins handled the San Jose Sharks in six games to win the Stanley Cup.

The memories Crosby has of the run, the ones that came before the one he cherishes most, getting handed the Stanley Cup again, serve as a useful reminder of what lies ahead.

"It wasn't this easy run that everything went smooth," Crosby said. "So I think understanding that, that once the regular season is over everyone starts fresh and you've got to prepare to overcome things if you want to go far."

Crosby said he feels the Penguins are prepared to go far again. He said in the past month they have shifted into playoff mode.

"We've gotten more and more diligent with stuff like blocking shots and desperation," Crosby said. "That's the kind of hockey we have to play in the playoffs."

Crosby said he's focused on the task of learning his linemates. The top line of Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary has been their most dynamic the past month. It hasn't come together organically though.

Crosby talks. A lot.

"I'm probably annoying in their ears," he said. "But it's so important for me to be able to understand what they're thinking and what they're seeing out there so I can get to the right spots."

Sheary and Guentzel listen and react.

"If he sees something he's going to tell you," Guentzel said. "Sometimes it's like, 'How do you even see that?'"

That's part of Crosby's greatness. He sees what you don't. 

Just like Lemieux.

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