PITTSBURGH (AP) -Sidney Crosby is more of a playmaker than an exceptional goal scorer, but he was exactly that in the one game the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't afford to lose - and didn't.
Crosby, a leader who looks and plays far beyond his 20 years, kept promising after the Penguins were dominated in the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals in Detroit that the hockey world had yet to see the best of Pittsburgh.
The best of the Penguins, of course, is Sidney Crosby himself, and the kid who wouldn't quit has personally lifted the Penguins back into a finals that was beginning to look lost. His play in Wednesday's 3-2 victory also gave his team what it most needed.
Crosby not only scored the critical first goal that Pittsburgh couldn't get in Detroit, he got the second one, too. It was an uncharacteristic goal-scoring performance for a player who can take over a game but not often solely with his stick. He had scored a goal in only six of his previous 25 games.
"What an effort. That's a leader really stepping up and leading us," defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "That's what captains do."
In a game so important, so critical for the Penguins - they knew a 3-0 series deficit was a near-certain lost cause - Crosby came out playing like he would personally ensure Pittsburgh wouldn't lose. His teammates followed.
"He proved why - in our minds - he's the best player in the league," Whitney said.
Before the game, Crosby - never a big talker - was quieter than usual in the dressing room. He said it was simply a determination to make sure the Penguins played their best game on a night they might need exactly that to beat Detroit.
"I think it was desperation. I wanted to make sure personally I had a good game. You want to be quiet, but you have to have a sense of confidence in the room, too," he said. "Personally, you just want to make sure you're leading by example and doing your job out there. And that's all I was basically trying to do."
Crosby, the 2006-07 scoring champion and MVP at age 19, was calmly reassuring after the debacles in Games 1 and 2 that the Penguins hadn't given up on themselves or the series and returning home to Mellon Arena was all they needed.
All they needed was Crosby to be Crosby. It was a man-sized performance by a player still known, despite his scraggly playoff beard, as Sid the Kid.
"It's pretty easy to play with someone like Crosby, he's the best player and you just have to make yourself (get) open and he's going to do everything else," said Evgeni Malkin, who played at times alongside Crosby, as he did much of the 2006-07 season.
It wasn't all Crosby, though, even if it seemed that way for much of 40 minutes. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a succession of big saves after Detroit got within 3-2 in the third period and was pressing for the tying goal.
Gary Roberts, scratched for Game 1, showed again at age 42 that his physical, disruptive and sometimes on-the-edge style can create goals, as he did by distracting goalie Chris Osgood on Adam Hall's goal that made it 3-1.
"I think we did a better job creating more," Crosby said. "I think that came from patience. They're a team that plays in your face, but sometimes you realize you have a little bit more time in certain plays."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien also gambled by sitting down defenseman Kris Letang, who was a plus-6 during the Eastern Conference finals, and playing two-time Cup winner Darryl Sydor for the first time in the postseason.
The changes didn't as much get the Penguins back into the series as much as the Penguins simply got back to being the Penguins.
Now, if nothing else, the Penguins know they're going back to Detroit for Game 5 on Monday night.
"I don't know if it was any one thing; I think it was everything," Hall said. "Every guy kind of working together. The game just feels so much easier when you have all five guys working for the same thing. It was huge for us just to have a little more success controlling the puck."