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Crosby inspires Pens with big plays

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

The Washington Capitals had badly outplayed the Penguins from the drop of the puck in Game 2 of their Second Round series on Saturday at Verizon Center, and the only reason Pittsburgh was in the game was because of its netminder.

That's when the captain stepped up.

The game changed because of two plays from Sidney Crosby, both on incredible individual efforts just over three minutes apart in the second period to help the Pens get a lead they wouldn't relinquish in a 6-2 win.

"I can't say enough about Sid's leadership," head coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby, who recorded his 52nd career multi-point playoff performance - surpassing Mario Lemieux to set a new team record.

The first came when Crosby re-directed a pass through his skates to get the puck on his stick while skating at full speed. He drew three Capitals players over to him, yet was still able to make a perfect pass to a wide-open Phil Kessel. 

Kessel had the time and space to pick his spot and snipe it past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby to give the Pens a 2-1 lead.

"He fought off a couple guys and he's special like that," Kessel said. "He's real strong out there and made a great play. He does that all the time. You see him out there, I think he's the strongest guy in the league on his skates and he muscles guys off and you always have to be ready."

The second may have been even more impressive. Crosby went down to block a shot in his own end with what Marc-Andre Fleury jokingly called a "nice butterfly," and - while flat on his stomach - was able to chip it up to Jake Guentzel to send him on a 2-on-1 with Bryan Rust that they converted.

"I think it was Rusty or maybe Guentz who threw it in the middle and then Phil was coming off the bench or from that side and made a great shot and then it was just kind of a broken play on the other end," Crosby said of the first sequence before describing the second sequence. "We were able to get a quick 2-on-1 and Guentz buried it. We were good there in transition a couple times."

On both plays, the biggest takeaway is that Crosby was more concerned about taking care of the defensive zone before worrying about the offensive zone. That focus is something I talked to him about at length last season for a feature I did on how Crosby would be a good candidate for the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best two-way forward.

If it was up to Sullivan, Crosby would be the winner.

"He's the best 200-foot player in the game, in my estimation," Sullivan said. "He plays at both ends of the rink. He defends as well as he plays with the puck and creates offense. He's a committed guy right now. I think he sees an opportunity for this team to have success and I think he leads by example. When he does that, he's inspiring to his teammates and certainly his coaching staff."

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