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Penguins turning to Sidney Crosby for inspiration against Senators

Captain stepping up, leading by example entering Game 5 of Eastern Conference Final

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

OTTAWA -- When the Pittsburgh Penguins need inspiration, they often find it in center Sidney Crosby.

They will no doubt look to their captain again in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Crosby sparked the Penguins offensively with a goal and an assist in their 3-2 win in Game 4 on Friday, which evened the best-of-7 series at 2-2, but his contributions went beyond the score sheet.

After a lackluster effort in a 5-1 loss in Game 3 on Wednesday, the Penguins knew they needed to raise their intensity to match what the Senators were throwing at them. Crosby showed them the way with his best game of the series.


[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Senators series coverage]


"He was on the puck. He was hard on the puck. He was making plays. He was defending hard. He was inspired," coach Mike Sullivan said Saturday. "He was really inspired, and when he plays that way he's tough to handle and he inspires our group as well. He's played a lot of hockey, so for him to continue to play the inspirational game that he plays, I think, is indicative of how badly he wants to win."

Though Crosby shares credit with others in the Penguins' leadership group, he understands his example is one teammates will follow. He was among those who struggled when Pittsburgh produced three goals in the first three games against Ottawa.

Crosby was held without a point in the first two games of the series before breaking through with a power-play goal in the third period of Game 3 and hadn't had much of an impact. That changed in Game 4.

"You just make sure that you go out there and compete," Crosby said, "and I thought as a group we probably didn't have that same level of desperation in Game 3. So I think we wanted to make sure we established that right from the start [Friday]."

After falling behind 4-0 in the opening 12:52 of Game 3, the Penguins started much better in Game 4 and grabbed a 1-0 lead when Crosby set up defenseman Olli Maatta for a goal with 46 seconds remaining in the first period. Crosby made it 2-0 by knocking in his own rebound at the right post for a power-play goal at 7:41 of the second period.

"Right from the start he showed he had that battle level and everybody else followed," Maatta said. "I think that's huge."

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin made it 3-0 at 11:30 of the second and the Penguins held on from there to get the win they desperately needed to change the outlook of the series. Predictably, Crosby called the rebound win a group effort.

"A good chunk of us have played together for a while and have been through different situations, so I think everyone relies on each other," he said. "But there's a certain level of confidence that in different situations the group will respond."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm4: Crosby slides home power-play goal

Before Game 4, it looked as if Crosby might be running out of gas. He didn't have the jump he had earlier in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and seemed to be frustrated at times playing against the Senators' stingy 1-3-1 defensive system.

It would be understandable if he were tired. As Sullivan noted, he has played a lot of hockey over the past two seasons.

After the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup last season, which also earned Crosby the Conn Smythe Trophy, he had a short summer and jumped right into the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September. Then, after captaining Team Canada to the championship and being voted the tournament's most valuable player, it was back to Pittsburgh, the end of training camp with the Penguins and the beginning of another long NHL season.

But Sullivan doesn't believe fatigue has been a problem for Crosby.

"He's so fit and he takes care of himself so well, he has the ability to do it," Sullivan said. "He's an extremely fit athlete."

Statistically, Crosby is having a better playoffs than last season, when he tied for sixth in the NHL with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 24 games. This season, Crosby ranks third in the League in playoff points with 17 (six goals, 11 assists) in 15 games, which leaves him behind only Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (20 points) and Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf (18).

Even after sustaining another concussion in Game 3 of the second round against the Washington Capitals, he returned after missing one game and had a point in each of the final three games of that series.

"He's probably the fiercest competitor that I've been associated with in the game and [Friday] was an example of it," Sullivan said. "He's got an insatiable appetite to be the best, and he has a drive and a will to win that in my estimation in being around the game not too many people have, and I think because of it, that's what separates him from others."

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