Dan Bylsma said this morning he expected Sidney Crosby to be at his best tonight in Game 2.
The coach was right about his captain.
After a disappointing effort by the team in Friday’s Game 1 loss, it was the Penguins’ stars who stepped up and led the way in a virtually flawless response game in Sunday's 3-0 victory that evened the series at 1-1 going back to New York City – starting with their two superstar centers Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who set the tone for their team.
There’s been so much talk and speculation surrounding their play and production throughout these playoffs, the Penguins captain especially as he’s now goalless in 13 straight playoff games dating back to last year. And to be fair, some nights Crosby hasn’t looked like himself.
But tonight, he was glorious. The best player in the world was exactly that. As defenseman Kris Letang put it, “’Sid’ was the most dangerous player out there tonight.” Crosby was absolutely flying and making plays every time he stepped on the ice.
His speed, strength and stickhandling were all on display, and at times it seemed like New York’s shutdown pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh didn’t know what to do with him as Crosby turned them inside out numerous times to get in on Henrik Lundqvist and get the puck to the net. Crosby finished with a team-leading six shots and had four more attempts that were either blocked or missed the net.
Crosby produced so many incredible individual efforts to win battles, as did Malkin – who scored an empty-netter late in regulation for his fourth goal of the postseason and added an assist as well. As many of the Penguins players have said, the team goes as their two best players do – and that was certainly the case tonight.
“To see Sid play like that tonight was really inspiring for I think everybody in our dressing room,” Letang said. “He was really dangerous. He was making plays, in front of the net, shooting the puck like he can and ‘Geno’ was too. You saw those two guys really persevere and play one-on-one battles and winning those battles. It was great to see.”
Letang was another Penguins star who stepped up with a big game, perhaps his strongest of the playoffs – finishing with a goal and two assists. It’s been a process for Letang, a Norris Trophy finalist last season, to regain his form, as he returned to play just three regular-season games before the playoffs began after missing 10 weeks with a stroke. But he’s starting to look like the dynamic, dazzling, and confident defenseman he’s capable of being, and tonight was a perfect example of that.
“I’m just trying to get a rhythm back,” Letang said. “But I would say in the last four games I’m building off what I do best. I think maybe I tried to play too careful before. Going back to my game, playing and making plays, I think it’s what made me the player I am today.”
And while yes, Lundqvist was certainly brilliant tonight for the Rangers, it was his counterpart at the other end of the ice that finished with not just the win, but the seventh playoff shutout of his career – moving him into first place on the franchise’s postseason shutout list.
The play of Marc-Andre Fleury in this game cannot be downplayed. The Pens were able to get one past Lundqvist in the second period, but with the way he was standing on his head it seemed almost impossible they’d be able to get another despite the way they were playing. Their 1-0 lead felt precarious, and it was Fleury who held it as he came up with so many key stops to keep his team in a game that could have gone either way. And Fleury was especially sharp early as the Rangers had three power plays the first 10 minutes of play.
“He played outstanding,” Letang said. “Kept us in the game. Made big saves at key moments and he’s been our best penalty killer out there. He played great.”