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Stanley Cup Final

Sidney Crosby drives Penguins to Game 5 win

Captain, dominant against Predators, focused on winning third Stanley Cup title

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- One win from a third Stanley Cup championship, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won't use words like legacy.

"Still a lot of work to be done," he said after a 6-0 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.

But he doesn't have to say it. You can see it in the way he skates, the way he competes, the way he leads.

 

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The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 entering Game 6 at Nashville on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). They are on the cusp of passing the Mario Lemieux-era Penguins in the number of championships won, of becoming the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and '98, of becoming the seventh franchise to win the Cup five times.

And he's consumed by it.

"Focused," said defenseman Kris Letang, who is out with a neck injury but was by Crosby's side after Game 5. "Focused is the word. When you have a guy like that on your team, you know his main goal is not about points. It's all about the team and creating a legacy. That's what he wants."

The Penguins dominated Thursday. Six players scored, none of them Crosby. Phil Kessel had a goal and two assists. Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist. But Crosby had three assists, and it all started with him, as it so often does.

After back-to-back losses at Nashville, Crosby came home flying on the first shift. He took a pass as he crossed the offensive blue line with speed, surrounded by four Predators. He thought defensemen Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi might step up to close the gap, and he decided to go to the net.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Schultz hammers home early PPG

As Ellis reached out with his stick, Crosby put the puck between Ellis' stick and his body, and split the defensemen. In one motion, he held off Ellis with his left hand, controlled the puck with his right hand and shielded the puck from Josi with his body. Once behind them, he twisted his torso, pulled the puck to his forehand and got off a shot.

It hit the left post, but Crosby drew a holding penalty on Ellis at the 50-second mark. Forty-one seconds later, the Penguins took a 1-0 lead on the power play when Crosby fed defenseman Justin Schultz for a point shot.

"When your captain drives through the middle and splits two guys and hits one off the post, and we get one on the power play because of his second effort on the puck, I think that's something that drives everybody to try and be better and go out there and work," forward Chris Kunitz said.

Fast forward to the second period. The Penguins led 3-0, and Predators coach Peter Laviolette replaced goaltender Pekka Rinne with backup Juuse Saros. Crosby made sure there would be no spark, let alone a comeback.

He took a pass as he crossed the Pittsburgh blue line with speed. He controlled the puck with his right hand, used his body to shield it from Predators defenseman Matt Irwin and scooted it past Predators forward James Neal, who turned like he wondered what just happened.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Sheary pads lead, Guentzel ties record

Crosby raced into the Nashville zone, buzzed around and ended up making a gorgeous backhand pass to forward Conor Sheary, who tapped in the Penguins' first shot of the period and made it 4-0 at 1:19. Welcome to the game, Juuse.

Then Crosby won a battle with Irwin at the Pittsburgh blue line that led to a goal by Kessel that made it 5-0 at 8:02.

Yes, Crosby jabbed the head of Predators defenseman P.K. Subban into the ice repeatedly late in the first period. They were tangled, Subban was holding Crosby's leg and trapping his stick, and Crosby was trying to free himself. Each took a minor for holding.

"He was doing some UFC move on my foot," Crosby said. "I don't know what he was trying to do. But I was trying to get out of there."

Crosby also tossed a water bottle onto the ice late in the second. He said he was making a gesture and it flew out of his hand. His left hand. He's right-handed. He apologized to the officials.

"I didn't try to throw it," Crosby said. "I know it ends up on the ice, but I wouldn't start throwing water bottles at this point. I haven't done it yet."

If you think the NHL is giving Crosby special treatment, the Penguins have a long list of grievances to read to you. 

"Sid led the charge from the first shift, and the rest of the team followed up," forward Matt Cullen said. "When he plays that way, it's awfully easy to follow him. He's pretty inspirational when he plays that way. He gets to a level that not many guys can get to."

Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs most valuable player last year. He should be a leading candidate again, along with Malkin. But his performance might be more impressive no matter what happens.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Crosby talks Pens' 6-0 rout in Game 5

He has 27 points in 23 games, second in the NHL to Malkin's 28 in 24; he had 19 in 24 last year. The Penguins don't have the depth up front they did last year, and they don't have Letang, their No. 1 defenseman. Jake Guentzel leads the League with 13 goals and has 21 points, tying the record for rookies in the playoffs, largely because he has played with Crosby.

"From the opening shift you can see his drive and his appetite to win," coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think that's an indication of his leadership and his will to win. I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has, and he's not taking anything for granted."

Still a lot of work to be done. 

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