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Stanley Cup Final

Coach's analysis: Sidney Crosby evolving, maturing for Penguins

Former Blues coach Davis Payne says captain's desire to be better helped Pittsburgh repeat as Stanley Cup champions

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators, NHL.com enlisted the help of Davis Payne to break down the action. Payne checked in throughout the series.

Payne, 46, was coach of the St. Louis Blues from 2010-11. The Blues were 67-55-15 under Payne.

He joined the Los Angeles Kings as an assistant on Darryl Sutter's staff in the summer of 2012 and was with the Kings until April. He was on their coaching staff during their Stanley Cup championship run in 2014.

 

NASHVILLE -- Not only does Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby have immense talent and a considerable work ethic, he has that intangible drive to make himself better, according to former St. Louis Blues coach Davis Payne.

 

[RELATED: Coach's analysis: Penguins won as a team | Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

The Penguins clinched back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with a 2-0 victory against the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of the Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday. Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season. He has won the Stanley Cup three times.

"He's got a purpose in what he's trying to do," Payne said. "He has evolved his game. You don't see him getting frustrated like he used to. You don't see the body language if he doesn't get the puck on the power play anymore. 

"You see a very mature superstar, and it's fun to watch athletes go through those stages and have success doing it. It's fun to watch greatness evolve."

The Penguins prevailed in a tense and tight-checking game. Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 remaining in the third period, and Carl Hagelin scored an empty-net goal with 14 seconds left.

"There was very little time or space to make a play," Payne said. "If there was going to be a breakdown, things were going to have to happen fast and it was going to be a one-goal affair.

"That was the first time in the series we saw the both teams digging into that level."

Penguins goaltender Matt Murray made "some game-changers" in Game 6, Payne said. Murray finished with back-to-back shutouts and had 27 saves in the Cup-winning game.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm6: Murray turns away Ekholm, Arvidsson

"He was big," Payne said. "He looked like he was hard to beat and I think if you look at the number of missed chances, missed shots, it tells the story about the way the goaltender is playing. Not only do you not see a lot, he's forcing pucks to go wide, as are his teammates.

"When a goalie is on it, you usually see numbers start to add up in those missed-shot categories."

The defining moment for the Penguins was killing off a 5-on-3 in the third period. 

"I thought that Pittsburgh's penalty kill was forced to win the game for them," Payne said. "They were outstanding. Nashville had very little opportunity to generate a play through to the net. You had guys in shot lanes the entire time. On the 5-on-3, a veteran guy comes out, wins a key faceoff and Ian Cole gets the puck down the ice.

"And 30 seconds peeled off the clock and they were able to weather that storm."

Payne addressed the Penguins' future and the toll of long playoff runs in back-to-back seasons. Pittsburgh became the first NHL team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98.

"They're going to have competitors lining up for ways to beat them, and as hard as it is to keep your team in place, playing 100 games a year, takes something out of you," Payne said.

"There were a few times where that 100 games last year put them in some precarious situations, whether it was during the regular season or in the playoffs, early on. It's June 12 and they're just finishing up. They're not going to be in dial-it-in-and-focus mode anytime soon."

Video: Crosby discusses winning back-to-back Stanley Cups

Payne thought it might be more difficult to win two in a row instead of three straight championships.

"I know what goes into the summer after winning one and there's a lot of well-earned distraction in that summer than kind of lessens the focus coming back into camp," he said. "The second Stanley Cup party is more tempered and mellow. 

"…The third one probably [could be] a little bit easier than the second one because there's a bit of that been-through-that, done-that approach. In my opinion, that will help them.

"The degree of the celebrations probably won't be as high just because they recognize what they've done. You talk to our guys here [in Los Angeles] and the second time they did it is a much more mellow process.

"But the wear and tear on these guys, playing 100 games back-to-back years, it adds up. It's real."

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