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Penguins' Crosby has 'twinkle in his eye'

Pittsburgh captain dazzles in Cup Final opener

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The word stuck out because it was maybe the only word, or at least the perfect word, to describe Sidney Crosby's performance in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on Monday.

"Inspiring," Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Three more performances like this one from their captain, and it's near impossible to see the Penguins losing the Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.

Crosby's only point in Game 1 was an assist on the Penguins' second goal in their 3-2 win, but if you look at only his stat sheet, you are missing the point of his performance.

The Penguins have talked throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs about their depth and how it gives them an edge, but to win in these massive moments they need their best players to step up with their best games.

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm1: Sheary doubles the lead with a wrister

Crosby is 1-for-1 against the Sharks. Nobody was better in Game 1. Nobody on either side.

Game 2 is here on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Talk about a leader going out and grabbing the reins and saying, 'Follow me,'" Penguins center Matt Cullen said. "He was strong on pucks. He was making plays. He was impossible to defend. He was really good and it's impossible not to follow that."

"When you see a guy like that just go out there and take the game over, that brings a lot of confidence to the bench and a lot of jump to the bench too," said Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist. "It's fun to watch.

The Sharks couldn't have been having any fun with Crosby. They had no answer for him on almost all of his 25 shifts.

He set up linemates Hornqvist and Conor Sheary for several glorious scoring chances. Some of them never materialized into shots, others required Sharks goalie Martin Jones to make spectacular saves.

And then there was the one play that basically served as a picture of Crosby's dominance.

"Just tried to make a play," Crosby said.

It was brilliant.

Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta rimmed the puck up the boards. It cruised past the benches and into the Sharks zone. Crosby, who had recoiled back for the breakout, saw what Maatta was doing and immediately picked up his speed, darting past a flat-footed Sharks defenseman Justin Braun in the neutral zone so he could win the foot race to the puck in the left corner.

Video: Hear what Crosby had to say after Game 1

After winning the race, Crosby slammed on the breaks, giving the corner boards a snow shower and fooling Braun so much that he had to drop to his knees as he tried to stop and turn to continue to try to defend Crosby.

That wasn't going to happen.

With one hand on his stick, Crosby played the puck to himself, looked up for a split second and slapped a no-look backhand pass through the middle of the ice and right onto Sheary's stick.

Seriously, how many players have the confidence to slap a no-look backhanded pass through the middle of the ice?

Sheary said he was expecting the puck to come to him because, "He sees you all over the ice."

Sheary had time to gather the puck and find an opening. He looked far side and picked his spot to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead at 13:48 of the first period.

"He screams down the wing, puts on the breaks, gets about three or four feet of separation and finds a great lane to get [Sheary] the puck," said Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who has been on the receiving end of many of Crosby's special plays in big moments over the years.

"That's what Sid is always great at -- getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space."

Hornqvist didn't have enough time to finish one of the several opportunities Crosby created for him in the third period, but man was it close, and wow would it have been of the highlight-reel variety.

Crosby's head-man saucer pass to Hornqvist just over 13 minutes into the third period was a thing of beauty, a pass only a few people in the world would even attempt to make and fewer could actually make.

Hornqvist got the puck on his stick and got the puck on net, but Jones, who made 38 saves, stopped the shot with his pads.

Crosby somehow got to the puck in the left corner and from a ridiculous angle managed to put it on net. The fact that he did sort of defies the laws of physics. But on this night, it wasn't all that surprising that Crosby found a way to get that puck on net from that angle.

"He was our best player for sure," Hornqvist said. "He had that little extra step on their guys."

He had something else too, Sullivan said.

"That twinkle in his eye, I think," Sullivan said. "He knows that we've played extremely hard to get to this point. When he plays that way, he inspires the whole group."

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