Sidney Crosby is on pace for the best performance of his career in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Crosby scored one goal in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 6-3 loss to Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Saturday, giving him 20 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 11 postseason games. He's one point behind teammate Jake Guentzel (10 goals, 11 assists) for the NHL lead entering Game 6 against the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). A loss will eliminate the Penguins and end their hopes of winning the Stanley Cup for the third straight time.
Crosby has six more points than he had at this point in the 2017 playoffs, when he had 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) through the first 11 games on his way to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP for the second straight year. Those numbers were in line with his NHL career average for the six previous times the Penguins played at least 11 games. Crosby's previous career best through 11 games was 17 points in 2008 (four goals, 13 assists) and 2010 (six goals, 11 assists).
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When the numbers from Crosby's first 11 games this year are combined with his performance in helping the Penguins win the Cup in 2016 and 2017, his three-year performance rivals his postseason production from 2008 through 2010, which ranks as one of the most dominant stretches in NHL history.
Crosby's hot start this year brings his total to 66 points (23 goals, 43 assists) in 59 games over the past three seasons combined. That's 12 more than teammate Evgeni Malkin, who ranks second with 54 points (20 goals, 34 assists) in 56 games.
It's the best three-year combined total since Crosby had 77 points (27 goals, 50 assists) in 57 games from 2008 through 2010. That was the only time a player has scored 70 points in a three-season stretch during the playoffs since Mario Lemieux (96) and Kevin Stevens (77) did it for the Penguins from 1991 through 1993. Crosby is within four points of reaching 70 points in a three-year span for the second time.
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Since the NHL's first expansion in 1967, the best three-season scoring total belongs to Wayne Gretzky, who had 120 points (42 goals, 78 assists) in 53 games for the Edmonton Oilers from 1983 through 1985. Crosby's 77 points are tied with Stevens and Mark Messier of the Oilers for sixth among every player's career best.
Comparing Crosby to Gretzky isn't entirely fair, because the game today is so much different than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s. There are notable differences in the rules, the equipment, the scoring levels and the heightened competition that results from having 51.6 percent of the teams make the playoffs (16 of 31), compared to 76.2 percent in most of Gretzky's era (16 of 21).
One way to compare players across eras is to consider each player's scoring as a percentage of his team's total scoring. Gretzky's 120 points from 1983 through 1985 mean he was involved in 44.1 percent of Edmonton's 272 goals during that three-year span. That's almost the same as Lemieux's numbers (96 points on 228 goals, 42.1 percent) from 1991 through 1993, and Crosby's (77 points on 182 goals, 42.3 percent) from 2008 through 2010. Crosby has 66 points on Pittsburgh's 191 goals since the start of the 2016 playoffs (34.6 percent).
Another way to compare players across eras is to divide each player's goals and assists by the League average that season, then multiply that number by the post-2005 average of 0.15 goals and 0.25 assists per game.
From that perspective, Gretzky's career best remains first with the modern-day equivalent of 94.3 points (31.7 goals, 62.6 assists) in 53 games. Lemieux is next with 80.4 points (32.7 goals, 47.6 assists) in 49 games. Crosby is third with 74.8 points (26.2 goals, 48.7 assists) in 57 games.
In this comparison, only each player's career best is being considered. Otherwise, Gretzky would hold six of the top eight positions. However, Crosby's current three-year total of 65.8 points (22.6 goals, 43.2 assists) in 58 games is only two points removed from third, if his earlier success is set aside.
Malkin is fourth with 67.4 points (28.3 goals, 39.2 assists) in 57 games from 2008 through 2010, followed by Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars with 66.7 points (21.0 goals, 45.6 assists) in 63 games from 1998 through 1999-2000, and Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings with 64.3 points (30.1 goals, 34.1 assists) in 57 games from 2008 through 2010.
Crosby needs two more adjusted points to pass these three players, nine more to match his career best and 15 more to catch Lemieux for second place.
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