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Crosby rises to the forefront at Winter Classic

by Adam Kimelman / Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby's game-winning shootout goal completed a perfect script for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – If there was a script for the AMP Energy NHL Winter Classic, it would have read like this: A shootout, the game on the line, and Sidney Crosby, on an international stage, with the game and the puck on his stick. Add in a light snow for ambience.

Well, that’s exactly how things played out in frosty Buffalo, as Crosby’s shootout goal was the difference in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2-1 win Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The winning goal wasn’t Crosby’s only highlight on a memorable day, but it’s the one people will remember long after the ice is melted off the Ralph Wilson Stadium turf.

With the sides even in the shootout after goals by Ales Kotalik for Buffalo and Kris Letang for Pittsburgh, Crosby was the last of the six shooters. He broke in on the Sabres goal, and after five dekes from in close, he pushed the puck between Ryan Miller’s pads.

Game over. Run the final credits.

“It’s like a Tiger Woods scene,” said Penguins goalie Ty Conklin. “I don’t think you can call this thing anything but a huge success, and certainly that definitely capped it off.”

It was a day that had a little bit of everything – an electric crowd of more than 71,000 fans, lots of snow and some great end-to-end hockey. There was the thrill of an overtime power play the Penguins were able to kill off, and a shootout that came down to the final shooter.

“In the shootout, from the red line to about the slot, there was a lot of snow,” said Crosby. “They cleared it around the slot area and toward the goalie, but before that it was built up a lot. I was more worried about getting the puck into that (slot) area, and then once I got there, I just watched his reactions.”

It was just the final dazzling move in a series of them.

Just 21 seconds into the game, Crosby, with the puck frozen to his stick, drove around Brian Campbell and absorbed a hit from Jaroslav Spacek. With all of Buffalo focused on No. 87 in the baby-blue sweater, Colby Armstrong jumped on the loose puck and buried it behind Miller for a 1-0 lead.

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“Sid did a great job driving through,” said Armstrong. “He’s so powerful on the puck, so he just took it through and it popped right to me. I just happened to put it in.”

Later, Crosby turned into a kind-of basketball player, dribbling the puck on his stick three times about shoulder-high as he skated around three Sabres.

“In a way, it’s sometimes easier to play the puck up there than have to drag it through a lot of snow,” said Crosby. “If you can do it, then why not?”

No one else can do it. Only Crosby.

In the third period, he pulled off a 360-degree spin-a-rama while cradling the puck, creating space for him to get off a backhander that Miller stopped.

In all, Crosby played 22:17, had five shots, one takeaway, won 10 of 21 faceoffs, assisted on Armstrong’s score and was a plus-1.

The biggest plus, though, went to the entire experience of playing outdoors.

“It’s a great feeling and a great experience, all in all,” said Crosby. “We’ve got some pretty decent weather. It wasn’t too cold. I thought they did a pretty good job of trying to maintain the ice.

“And obviously when you win, it’s a lot nicer."

After spending parts of Monday’s practice taking in the sites of 73,000-seat Ralph Wilson Stadium, Crosby said Tuesday was all about business.

“It’s fun, but I think the warm-up, when you come on the ice and the pre-game ceremony, the initial feel out there, that’s what you feel the most,” said Crosby. “Once you’re in the game, we’re all competitive. We all want to win this. So you get back to thinking about the things you have to do and you probably don’t take things in as much because you’re trying to win the game.

”Definitely, at the start, it was a great sight coming out there and seeing what we saw, but once you’re out there, you’re focused on playing and winning.”

With a sweep of the home-and-home series and the Penguins’ fourth-straight win secured, Crosby even allowed himself to think about playing in another outdoor classic.

“I think that we all watched the Edmonton-Montreal game and I think a lot of guys wished they were a part of it and we were lucky enough to have that opportunity,” said Crosby. “We’ll see, maybe we’ll have other chances to do this.

“Growing up, I played a lot outside and a lot of their guys did, too, and when you see 70,000 people jammed into a stadium to watch hockey, it’s a good sign. The atmosphere and environment, I don’t think you can beat that. I think it’s something to look back and say we had a lot of great memories being a part of it.”

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