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Crosby one win from chance at second championship

Victory in Game 7 against Lightning would give Penguins captain shot to match Lemieux

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TAMPA -- One win. That's all. That's Sidney Crosby's singular focus now.

One victory for the right to play for the Stanley Cup again, for the first time since 2009. One win for the opportunity to match the Stanley Cup total of Mario Lemieux, the greatest player in the history of the Penguins.

Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center is Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Don't for one second underestimate what this means for Crosby and the people who call Pittsburgh home.

The older generation of fans in Pittsburgh had their emotions dictated by No. 66. The current generation of fans are living and dying with No. 87. If he can do what Mario did, he'll forever win over their hearts, if he hasn't done so already.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm6: Crosby splits D, beats Vasilevskiy

"You look at it just as an opportunity," Crosby said. "You probably don't think about a lot of other stuff besides the fact that it's really hard to get there and it's a game. It's one game and you've got to find a way to win it. Try to enjoy it as much as you can, but also understand that it's a great opportunity and try to leave it all out there."

Crosby has done that in this series.

He scored the game-winning goal in Game 2; he scored in overtime in Game 3; his game-winning goal in Game 6 on Tuesday was Crosby at his best, which is to say, unstoppable.

Crosby got the puck in the neutral zone after Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist stripped it away from Lightning center Tyler Johnson. Crosby looked up and saw a lane and went for it, darting past Lightning forward Ondrej Palat, swinging around defenseman Anton Stralman and blowing through defenseman Victor Hedman and forward Nikita Kucherov before beating goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy through the five hole at 19:34 of the second period.

"No. 1, the timing of the goal was huge, right at the end of a period," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think you saw his will and his determination in that goal, and when Sid's playing that way it certainly gives our bench a big lift. Obviously, it was a game-changing goal for us."

It was a special goal scored by a special player at a special time.

"That's what the leaders do," Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta said.

Video: Dan Rosen on the legacy of Sidney Crosby

Crosby doesn't have to score a special goal at a special time in Game 7 for the Penguins to win. Pittsburgh is stronger than that. It is built to win with four lines and three defense pairs contributing and a rookie goalie making the saves he has to make.

"We don't expect any one of our players to carry the load for this team," Sullivan said. "This team has had success because it's been a team and everyone participates and contributes to help us win."

Sullivan is right. But the Penguins need Crosby to have a positive impact, much in the same way the Penguins of old probably wouldn't have won either of their Stanley Cup championships without Lemieux at his best.

"We expect [Crosby] to be himself, and when he does that he's a great player, he helps us win and that's what he did [Tuesday] night," Sullivan said.

But history is not on Crosby's side.

The Penguins have lost three straight Game 7s, including the two they've played at Consol Energy Center, which opened in 2011. Crosby has played in two of them and failed to score a point in each game. Pittsburgh is 2-7 all-time in Game 7s at home.

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm3: Crosby tallies PPG on Malkin's feed

The last time Pittsburgh won a Game 7 was at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009. The reward was the Stanley Cup, handed to Crosby from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

"If anything, just going through different experiences like that, you learn anything can happen and you just give yourself the best chance of winning by keeping it simple and not trying to put too much emphasis on the storyline around it," Crosby said. "We're in the exact same situation we were [Tuesday] night. That's the bottom line. You saw the way we played and reacted to that. I would expect much the same [Thursday]."

Which means he expects himself to have a similar impact. He better.

Legacies are made in these moments, and Crosby's legacy will forever be compared to Lemieux's. He's as close as he's ever been to having the chance to be remembered as an equal champion. All he needs is one win. That's all.

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