Sidney Crosby knows that when you’re the highest profile athlete in your sport, your every game will be analyzed and criticized.
The Pens captain hadn’t scored since April 21 in Game 4 of the Pens’ First Round series against the NY Rangers. It had been eight games since he lit the lamp entering Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
Crosby also knows, that when he isn’t producing at his all-worldly level, the media will ask him about it.
“That’s part of it. I think it’s common,” Crosby on Sunday. “As someone who’s looked at to produce offensively that’s something that you understand is part of it.”
The media was asking him questions again following Game 2 against the Bolts. Only this time, they were asking him about scoring the game-winning overtime goal that gave the Pens a 3-2 victory and evened their series at 1-1.
“Just happy,” Crosby said of scoring the goal. “Whether I scored in the last seven games or hadn’t scored, it feels good to get rewarded. I think we deserve that one tonight. To be in the playoffs here is a great opportunity, and to score and contribute feels good.”
It was a proverbial “must-win game” for the Pens. A loss would have put them in a 2-0 hole with the series shifting to a hostile road venue for the following two games. It wouldn’t have been dire circumstances, but it would have been a difficult hurdle to overcome.
And just when the Pens needed someone to step up and lead, it was their captain who got the job done.
“He showed leadership and we believe in him,” center Evgeni Malkin said. “It was huge. He worked hard the whole game and played right.”
The play was started by defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the neutral zone getting the puck to Bryan Rust. He carried down the far side and passed to Crosby, who was calling for the puck, between the circles. Crosby one-timed a shot into the top corner of the net blocker side.
“It’s a great play by ‘Dumo.’ He kind of keeps the puck alive along the wall, and then makes a pass to ‘Rusty,’” Crosby said of the goal. “I didn’t think Rusty saw me, so I just tried to let him know I was there. I didn’t know exactly what he was going to do. He was pretty low. He had a good chance to maybe shoot it too.”
But Rust knew exactly what to do.
“When the best player in the world calls for the puck, you give it to him,” Rust said.
And Crosby did the rest.
“He made a perfect pass and put it in an area I could get a quick shot away,” Crosby said.
Crosby’s biggest challenge throughout the past nine games, especially tonight, was remaining patient.
In his younger days, Crosby may have been overcome by frustration. But he is no longer “The Kid.” Playing in his 11th season, the veteran has grown and understands the ups and downs of playoff hockey.
“You just understand that (a scoring drought) does happen. There are times where you can’t really explain it, and you have opportunities or you have those chances where the puck doesn’t seem to bounce that way,” Crosby said prior to the game. “You just have to trust and experience that. Eventually if you do the right thing the puck will go in the net.”
Crosby was doing all the right things against the Lightning in Game 2. He did everything, but score during the 60 minutes of regulation.
Crosby, who finished the game with six shots, had what appeared to be the entire net to shoot at during the second period following a beautiful cross-ice pass from Malkin. Crosby sent the puck toward the net from his backhand only to be denied by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in the save of the game.
“I got pretty good wood on it,” Crosby said. “I thought it was a pretty decent shot. I just probably put it a little bit too far back into (Vasilevskiy), and he’s a big guy. He covers a lot of the net and was pretty quick in getting over. But when it came off of my stick I thought I had a pretty good chance of scoring there.”
Crosby was once again denied on a great chance in the third period. This time his shot was tapered for the far side of the net only to nip the shaft of Vasilevskiy’s stick.
Although it may have been a frustrating feeling not scoring on those opportunities, Crosby looked at them as a good sign.
“The big thing was that there were some really good chances,” Crosby said. “With chances like that, you’re encouraged that you’re getting them.”
And with chances like those, Crosby’s head coach knew it was only a matter of time before he would be rewarded.
“I’m glad ‘Sid’ got the overtime winner. I think he got rewarded for a hard effort tonight,” Mike Sullivan said. “It’s a big boost for Sid.
“When Sid gets an OT winner like that, in that fashion, I think it’s a big boost for our team.”