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Stanley Cup Final

Crosby not taking journey for granted

With Penguins on brink of Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh captain looks back at difficulty of winning championship

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Those helpless times when Sidney Crosby used to be the most talented spectator in the building have helped drive him to the moment he's in now, one win away from being the most talented player on the ice when the Stanley Cup is awarded to him.

Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins can do that in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports). They lead the best-of-7 series 3-1.

"Just playing the game you love every day," Crosby said after practice Wednesday. "Until it's taken away from you, I don't think you appreciate it as much."

Crosby has talked a lot about appreciation for the game during the Penguins' run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's easy to understand why. 

Go back to seven years ago, to June 12, 2009, when his team was battling the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena. Where was Crosby late in the second period and through the third period? He wasn't on the ice. He couldn't be. 

Crosby sustained a knee injury in the second period, tried to take one more shift and couldn't help his team anymore, so he was on the bench. He was stationary when his team needed him to be active, nothing more than the biggest Penguins fan in the building.

Talk about feeling powerless and, to a degree, helpless.

"I mean, you don't know if you're going to get that opportunity again," Crosby said. "It's Game 7. It's a win or go home type of deal. Having been there the year before and coming up short, it's tough watching that situation. You just kind of try to be the best cheerleader you can be in that situation I guess, try to be supportive and hope they get the result."

The Penguins got the result. They won 2-1 with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury putting the exclamation point on the championship with a diving save on Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom in the dying seconds of the third period.

Crosby got to lift the Cup, so what he remembers most from that game was the thrill of a dream coming true. 

"It's not the way you think about it or the way it kind of goes on in your head, but that being said it worked out that way," Crosby said. "I think I look back with just as fond memories as I would if I finished the game."

But he hasn't forgotten that feeling he had as the game wore on. It motivates him now. So does overcoming his concussion problems, which threatened to take the game away from him forever.

Video: Hear what Crosby had to say after practice

Crosby missed the second half of the 2010-11 season, including the playoffs, and approximately three quarters of the 2011-12 season because of concussion issues. 

"The concussion was tough," Crosby said. "I mean, at that age, when you feel pretty good and you miss a year of hockey, it's not ideal, but everyone goes through different things. I think that's probably something that has given me more appreciation of certain things after going through that. At the time it's really tough. Trying to get back into things is tough, but once you get over it I think you try to take the positives from it. That's what I try to do."

He was doing that in the 2012 playoffs, but the Penguins were overrun by the Philadelphia Flyers, losing their cool and eventually the first-round series in six games. 

Then came the lockout that stripped Crosby of 34 more games, a lot when you consider his concussion problems stole 101 games from him over the previous two seasons. 

The League returned and Crosby was dominant in the first 36 games of the 2012-13 season. He had 56 points before a broken jaw took him out of the last 12 games of the season and the first game of the playoffs.

Video: Crosby Contributing in Different Ways

He returned and the Penguins made it to the Eastern Conference Final, where they were shut down and swept by the Boston Bruins. 

The next year they blew a 3-1 series lead in the first round against the New York Rangers and lost in seven games. General manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were fired. Crosby was questioned.

Last year, they had no chance in a five-game, first-round series loss to the Rangers. Crosby was questioned again.

It all matters to Crosby now. It all motivates him now. The injuries, the time he missed, the bad losses -- it all helps him as he prepares himself and his team for Game 5 on Thursday, when the Stanley Cup will be in Pittsburgh and could end up in Crosby's hands.

"When you're in the playoffs, when you're competing, you appreciate the opportunity to be here," Crosby said. "Even in '09, it was something you felt like it maybe might be an annual thing. It's not that easy."

Crosby now knows how hard it is. That's motivation.

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