PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby was at his best Friday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. As a result, he rewrote the Pittsburgh Penguins' history book a bit and gave his team a 2-0 series lead against the Ottawa Senators.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said he started the line of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis because he wanted to send a message to his team about how important the game was.
"You look to those guys to set the tone to come out and not only just set the tone but the way we play, the way we execute -- that's why you start that line and what you got from the veteran guys to start the game," Bylsma said after a 4-3 victory that featured a Crosby hat trick.
Crosby's line did not score on the opening shift, but they did dominate zone play to put the Senators back on their heels. Crosby was on the board soon enough, though.
At 3:16, Crosby completed a highlight-reel goal, using his speed to torch a flat-footed Erik Karlsson, Ottawa's Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, before firing a low, hard shot that beat goalie Craig Anderson to the far side to give Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish.
The goal was a precursor of the glory to come, but it was also a piece of history as it gave Crosby 100 playoff points in 75 appearances. Four players have reached 100 points faster: Wayne Gretzky (46 games), Mario Lemieux (50), Jari Kurri (67) and Mike Bossy (74). It also tied Crosby for fourth place on the Penguins' playoff scoring list with Hall of Famer Ron Francis. Lemieux (172 points in 107 games), Jaromir Jagr (147 points in 140 games) and Kevin Stevens (106 points in 103 games) are the top three playoff scorers in franchise history.
"I didn’t know it was [Karlsson]," Crosby said when asked if he knew who was in front of him on the first goal. "I think he was getting ready to gap up and I was able to catch a stride there. He’s a good skater. He’s one of the best, so I think being able to catch a step and get around him was good timing. I don’t know who pushed the puck up to me but it worked out pretty well."
"Pretty well" is an understatement. The goal was so beautiful -- reminiscent of the defense-splitting, highlight-reel goal he scored against the New York Islanders in the first-round series -- that he left his coach and teammates shaking their heads in amazement.
"He has so many assets and things that make him great, but one is that he can do everything at top speed," forward Jarome Iginla said. "There are lots of guys that can skate really fast without the puck, but he doesn't slow down with puck at all. He's fast without it, obviously, but when he has it he's just as fast. Most guys, they start coming into traffic, they have to slow up and look around. They have to slow up just a bit. He doesn't slow up at all and that is a big part of what makes him so great."
Crosby's vision and the ability to process his options also are part of his greatness. Those characteristics were on display on his second goal, when he held the puck too long as he came through the offensive zone. When the opportunity to pass disappeared, Crosby noticed Anderson was cheating toward the pass and, as a result, he decided to bank the puck off the goalie's pad and into the goal.
"He's one of the best in the game and if you give him time and space to make plays, to shoot the puck, he's going to burn you," Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips said. "That's what we did today -- gave him a little too much time and he was able to take advantage of that."
Crosby finished his hat trick at 1:15 of the second period, scoring on the power play with a booming shot under the crossbar. This time, he used the screen of Phillips to beat Anderson.
"I wanted to shoot it a little earlier," Crosby said. "I was just trying to find a way around. I don’t know who was in front but I knew they were going to come up to front it. It worked out pretty good; he was going across as I was shooting it."
And, just like that, the hats were floating down to the ice as the sellout crowd celebrated wildly.
"You don’t get those opportunities all the time, especially in the playoffs, to score three," said Crosby, who also had a playoff hat trick in 2009 and joins Lemieux as the only Penguins to have more than one in the playoffs. "It’s a great feeling."