PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby started to reel off names of people who serve as motivation for him to win the Stanley Cup again. It took him a while.
He started with Pascal Dupuis, his former teammate who had to retire because of blood clot issues. He talked about Mario Lemieux, the greatest player in Penguins history and his boss as their co-owner. He referenced Ron Burkle, the Penguins' other co-owner. He mentioned defenseman Trevor Daley, who is out with a broken ankle.
"Those are really close to home," Crosby said.
There was, however, one person Crosby neglected to mention.
Maybe he's too humble to do that, but Crosby undoubtedly battled through his own struggles, including career-threatening concussions, to get back to the Stanley Cup Final seven years after becoming the youngest captain in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup.
He was 21 when he accepted the trophy from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on June 12, 2009. He'll step onto the ice for Game 1 against the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) as a 28-year-old with a new level of respect for where he is and how difficult it is to get here.
"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now, having gone through those things, I definitely appreciate it more. I realize how tough it is to get to this point. I'm definitely motivated to win."
If he can win the Stanley Cup again, Crosby will match Lemieux in the category that matters most. Lemieux won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992.
"It'd be nice to get another one, no doubt," said Crosby, who has 15 points in 18 playoff games this spring. "I'll do everything I can to try to do it."
He's been trying to do it again since he celebrated his 22nd birthday on Aug. 7, 2009 with a parade through Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. It was fit for a king, with an estimated 75,000 people lining the streets to catch a glimpse of Crosby and the Cup.
Crosby hasn't always been surrounded by a supporting cast as deep as the one that engulfs him now in Pittsburgh, but his work ethic and desire, even as he battled the concussions, never wilted.
It is that work ethic that impresses and almost shocks people like Mike Sullivan, who got to know Crosby on more of a personal level this season after taking over as Pittsburgh's coach on Dec. 12.
"I always had an appreciation for how good he is, that's obvious, but when you have an opportunity to get to know someone on a personal level, when you work with them day in and day out, as is the case here, I've grown just more respectful and have more admiration for his care factor and his professionalism as far as how he goes about his business every day," Sullivan said. "Everybody in the hockey world sees how talented he is as a player; I can tell you by watching him every day that it's not by accident that he's as good as he is."
Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet compared Crosby's work ethic to a teammate on the Penguins in the early 1990s:
"The one thing with Sidney Crosby for me is the way he practices," Tocchet said. "It's really inspired me in the respect that I have for him. He doesn't go out there and float around, he works at his game. And Mario was the same way."
Tocchet said Crosby's ability to stay even-keeled is another trait the Penguins captain shares with Lemieux.
"It's a huge effect that those guys have on the whole room and that's probably the best similarity between them," Tocchet said. "The whole world is watching. Every move you make counts. You're under a microscope. But that's why they are who they are. They can tune out the world and just play their game."
Crosby said he learned balance from Lemieux. In the past he would waver and lose his focus or his cool, but this season in particular he's been as even-keeled as Lemieux.
"I can see it on the bench. I see it in between periods. I see it in how he handles our young players," Sullivan said. "We've had a lot of turnover and there's been a lot of adversity this team has faced since the start of training camp, and I think the resilience he has shown, the resolve through some of the ups and downs is an indication of his leadership and experience level."
Crosby's experience has given him the confidence to speak up in the locker room, like he did prior to overtime in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the second round.
The Penguins blew a 3-0 lead, but it was Crosby who spoke up first and reminded everybody they still had an opportunity to win the series in overtime.
Center Nick Bonino scored 6:32 into the extra period. Penguins 4, Capitals 3. Series over.
"He's more willing to say the right thing at the right time," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said. "He doesn't have to be a cheerleader, but when he talks everybody understands that's the important part, that's what he sees and those are the areas we have to get better."
Crosby said he feels more prepared to do that than he was in 2009. He felt his experience helped him just walking into Media Day on Sunday.
"There are guys who are going to come in here for the first time and be like, 'Wow, this is crazy, I haven't seen anything like this before,'" Crosby said. "It is busier than it was in '08 and '09, but it's all part of it."
Being part of it again is all the motivation Crosby needs to win again. Nothing hits closer to home than that.
"I probably enjoy it more now having realized how tough it is to get here," Crosby said.