Sidney Crosby carried the puck over the opposing blue line and was staring at an empty net. Crosby was sitting on career goal No. 399 and all he needed was a flick of the wrist to reach yet another milestone in his illustrious career.
But the Pens captain wasn't thinking about himself.
Crosby entered the zone with Bryan Rust streaking down the middle lane. Rust had two goals that evening against the San Jose Sharks, and was on the ice in the final minutes with the hopes of netting his second career hat trick.
Selflessly, Crosby passed - metaphorically and literally - on his own career achievement to help his teammate. But Rust's hat trick wasn't meant to be. He snapped off a shot that clanked hard off of the crossbar.
Moments later Crosby would again collect the puck. And again, he would bypass on collecting the Big 400 with a pass to Evgeni Malkin - who also had two goals at that juncture of the game. Malkin would eventually record his 12th career hat trick in a 5-2 victory for the Penguins.
The victory capped an impressive run by the Pens, who had won eight of their previous 10 contests and finished with the most wins (9) in the month of January. The successful run helped the Pens climb from 10th place in the Eastern Conference to second place in the Metro Division.
The surge was led by the team's captain.
Since the turn of the calendar year, Crosby led the league in scoring during the month of January with 21 points (3G-18A) in 12 games. His 18 assists also led the NHL during the year's opening month.
Crosby's assist against San Jose extended his scoring streak to 10 games (3G-17A) for 20 points.
It's an incredible scoring run for any player. However, for Crosby, it's just another month in the life of the greatest player of his generation.
"I think he's one of the best ever to play. In this generation no one has been better than him. No one has been more productive than him. He's been doing it for 13 years being the best player. It's been a long time that he's been doing it."
-Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Crosby was a hockey prodigy at the age of 6. He dominated the youth hockey circuit against older kids in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
"He was 6 at the time and he could do things that other kids that age couldn't do, that 8 or 9 year olds couldn't do," said Paul Mason, who coached Crosby in his youth. "He could make plays and passes where the other kids had tunnel vision. That stood out the most to me at that point. At the same time he had the skill to score."
Crosby excelled at every level of competition during his formative years, from youth hockey to high school hockey to junior. Though excelled may be an understatement. Utter domination is probably more fitting.
Crosby posted 162 points (72G-90A) in 57 games with Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minnesota in 2002-03 at 15 years old. He then scored 135 and 168 points in the following two seasons with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Crosby was the undisputed top pick during his draft year availability in 2005. And as luck would have it, the Pens won the lottery. Since that coveted draft day in late July, Crosby has been the face of the franchise and the entire NHL.
"Ever since he came into the league he's been the face of the NHL," Toronto's Auston Matthews said. "I loved watching him when he broke into the league."
Since then Crosby has gone on to win every team and individual award in the hockey universe. He led the Pens to three Stanley Cup titles. He led Team Canada to two gold medals and a World Cup championship. Individually Crosby has won the NHL's Hart (MVP) twice, Art Ross (scoring title) twice, "Rocket" Richard (goal-scoring title) twice, Ted Lindsay (best player voted by his peers) three times and two Conn Smythe's as the playoff MVP.
"He's won basically everything you could win," New York Islanders captain John Tavares said. "Not just one time, he's done it multiple times. His ability to do it time and time again is impressive."
"Looking at it all, it's hard to pass any of the accomplishments," Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "His World Cups, Stanley Cups, Olympics. There isn't anything that he hasn't won."
Perhaps most impressively, Crosby has accomplished more before the age of 30 than most players in their entire careers.
"He's 30 years old," said Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski. "He's got 1,000 points in 800-something games. He's the best player in the world, or at least one of them. If it's not him, I don't know whom. It's pretty unbelievable what he's done."
"He'll be most remembered for winning. He's got three Cups, Olympics, World Championships. He's got it all. I feel like he's a guy that's not too complacent so I'm sure he wants more. Everything he's accomplished so far, you're lucky to experience any of those."
-Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
Although he's only 30 years old with a lot of hockey left in his skates, Crosby's legacy has already heavily impacted the Pittsburgh Penguins and the National Hockey League.
Crosby helped save a fragile franchise that was on the verge of relocation and in the midst of several last-place finishes in the standings. Since his arrival, Crosby has led the club on a decade-plus run of unprecedented success, the building of a brand-new arena and three Stanley Cup championships, including the first ever back-to-back titles in the salary cap era.
Despite being drafted over 13 years ago, Crosby is still the reigning best player in the world. Among active players with 500 career points, only five averaged more than a point per game. Led, of course, by Crosby at 1.3 points per game. Crosby is followed by teammate Evgeni Malkin (1.18), with Washington's Alex Ovechkin (1.12), Chicago's Patrick Kane and Tampa's Steven Stamkos (tied at 1.01) rounding out the five.
Even as new phenomenon talents like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Matthews start to emerge, they have a long way to go in terms of becoming the face of the NHL or the best player in the league.
"He's the best player in the world, by far," McDavid said. "Just what he does, it's really unbelievable. This guy finds a way to produce every night. … He's an all-around player and he's definitely the best player in the world."
It may seem premature to talk about Crosby's legacy with him just 30 years old and in the prime of his career. But his most recent career milestones have continued to elevate his place in NHL and Penguins history.
Last season, Crosby recorded his 1,000th career NHL point to become the fastest active player to reach the milestone (757 games). Then, on Jan. 25 against Minnesota, Crosby recorded his 1,080th point to surpass Jaromir Jagr for second place on the Pens' all-time scoring list. The only man standing between Crosby and the mountaintop is Mario Lemieux's 1,723.
"I think he's safe," Crosby said with a smile.
While Crosby continues to climb up the point ladder, he considers something else more important to his own legacy.
"Points aren't what come to mind when you think about your playing career and when you're done," Crosby said. "You want to be known as a good teammate, someone who showed up everyday and worked hard. I think that's the biggest thing. If that's what you leave with, then you've done a good job."
Crosby has certainly left his mark on the league in terms of work ethic. And not just among his own teammates. Ask any of the NHL's All-Stars who have played with and against Crosby, and they'll tell you the same.
MacKinnon and Crosby train together during the summers in their native Nova Scotia.
"In the summer we train every day. It's fun to see his work ethic," MacKinnon said. "He works so hard every day. He's very talented and skilled, but he works for everything that he has too."
Crosby was a teammate with Boston's Brad Marchand at the World Cup of Hockey. The duo played on a line together.
"The thing that impressed me the most with him wasn't the way that he played during the games," Marchand said. "It was the way that he worked during practice. The things that he worked on. You see the things that he does in games. None of it is lucky or a one-time thing. It's all things that he's worked on. His work ethic and the way he dedicates himself to the game is something I really took away from practicing with him and playing with him, his approach to the game."
"It's not surprising because of his work ethic and his drive to be great," said Tavares, who teamed with Crosby for Team Canada at the Olympics. "His talent is obvious. But it's his drive and commitment to be at that level, find new ways to push himself. He sets the standard amongst all the players."
Crosby's longtime teammate, Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, had an up-close look at the Pens captain's practice habits for a dozen years.
"He's very talented obviously. But he's also the hardest worker in practice and the games," Fleury said. "Every time he's on the ice he just loves the game and always brings his best effort to improve and contribute to the team. He's been a great leader for the team for many years."
"His work ethic. He's a student of the game. He thinks the game so well. The way he doesn't give up on plays, give up on pucks. He's an ideal hockey player."
-Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Crosby collected the puck along the goal line early in the second period against St. Louis on Feb. 11. Ten games had passed since scoring his 399th goal, and hitting No. 400 was proving to be elusive.
Sitting high above the ice in a suite was Troy Crosby, Sidney's father. He was joined by the fathers of other players, coaches and staff as part of the team's annual Dads' Trip. Troy had seen a lot of milestones from his son through the future Hall of Famer's career. He was about to witness another.
Pittsburgh had just surrendered a goal 20 seconds earlier and were trailing, 1-0, to the Blues. In need of a response, and a goal, the captain delivered. For the team. For the dads. For himself.
Blues goalie Jake Allen was down on his knee and hugging the post. But there was the slightest hint of daylight between his arm and body. An alert Crosby threw the puck at the net and gave a follow up whack.
Somehow, someway, the puck managed to squeeze through that tiniest of holes and fall onto the ice tucked just inside the net. The goal tied the game at 1-1 (Crosby would add another tally late in the game as Pittsburgh grabbed a 4-1 victory).
"I still don't know how it trickled in. It seemed like it took forever," Crosby said. "It's been a long 10 games, too. It was nice to see it go in."
The milestone was certainly not lost among those on the team and the coaching staff.
"We're thrilled for him," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's such a great accomplishment to score 400 goals in this league, and in Sid's case, to score 400 goals as quickly as he has is another level of accomplishment."
Some may look at Crosby's goal as lucky, a shot that somehow found its way into the net. Others know better.
"It's a typical Crosby goal," Sullivan said. "He scores more goals from below the goal line than anybody I've ever seen. It doesn't surprise me. Some people might think it's a fluke. It's not a fluke because I've seen it happen so many times."
Crosby became just the 95th player in NHL history to reach 400 goals. He's also just the third player in franchise history to notch 400, joining Lemieux (690) and Jagr (439).
In the last calendar year Crosby has collected his 1,000th career point and 400th career goal while surpassing legends of the game. And at 30 years old, Crosby has a lot more climbing to do before it's all said and done.
"It's a nice number," he said of 400. "You're happy when you get it. You want to get more and continue to go. It's not something you try to think about."
"Right now, Crosby is the best player, and you have to earn your stripes. Until somebody knocks him off the castle, that's the way it's going to be. He won three Stanley Cups, two gold medals, and he's handled the pressure and handled everything with grace and dignity, and he deserves all the accolades he's getting."
-Wayne Gretzky, Hockey Hall of Famer