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Second Stanley Cup Title Lifts Crosby's Legacy

by Dan Rosen / Pittsburgh Penguins

SAN JOSE -- Make it a double-double for Sidney Crosby, who now owns the tiebreaker in any argument against his greatness.

"Two is better than one," Crosby said earlier in the Stanley Cup Final.

He's better than most, and he's got the hardware to prove it.

Crosby became a two-time Stanley Cup champion when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 at SAP Center on Sunday, seven years to the day he won the Cup for the first time. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Crosby is the ninth player in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup twice and win two Olympic gold medals. He joins Igor Larionov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Peter Forsberg, Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Drew Doughty as the players who make up that prestigious fraternity.

"When you're able to combine both the Stanley Cup and the gold medal, I think it says a lot about the leadership you have, the player, the performance," said Brodeur, a three-time Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils. "Doing both one time is one thing, but when you start adding 'em up, I think it justifies a little more who you are. When you win the second one, it just validates that the first one wasn't a fluke."

Let's get one thing straight: Crosby didn't need to win the Stanley Cup again to validate his career. Once would have been enough when you add in all of his other accomplishments, such as his two Olympic golds for Canada, his gold at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, his gold at the 2005 World Junior Championship, his Hart Trophy in 2007 and again in 2014.

Crosby was a lock for the Hockey Hall of Fame before stepping foot on the ice this season, certainly before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed him the Stanley Cup for the second time. But when you're constantly compared to the greatest to ever play the game, when you're considered by many to be the greatest now, validation in the form of multiple championships matters.

Gordie Howe would still be "Mr. Hockey" if he won the Cup one time, but he won it four times and lived one of the greatest lives in hockey history. Wayne Gretzky would still be a legend had he won the Cup just once, but winning it four times cemented him as "The Great One." Mario Lemieux is "Le Magnifique" in part because he won the Stanley Cup twice.

"I'm sure it will give him a much different perspective on it all and I'm sure he will appreciate it more," Niedermayer said of Crosby. "The rest of us will be able to say, 'Well, he is a winner.' He stuck with it and he was able to win again. It's one more notch, one more accomplishment. It's a big deal."

Crosby's window to win again never closed in the seven years it took him to get back to the top of the mountain, but it looked broken, like he nearly was five years ago.

He lost 101 games of his career because of concussion problems from January 2011 through March 2012. Nobody worried about Crosby winning again at that point; there was only concern for his well-being and questions if he would be the same player, or, worse, ever play again?

He did. He came back. He resumed being dominant. The Penguins didn't, at least until now.

They lost in the first round in 2012, a brutal and embarrassing series against the Philadelphia Flyers. They made it to the Eastern Conference Final in 2013 but scored two goals in four consecutive losses to the Boston Bruins. They blew a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in the second round in 2014 and lost in seven games. They were blown out by the Rangers in a five-game series last season.

"That is another part of his journey that, to me, is impressive," said Niedermayer, a four-time Cup champion. "I'm sure he's had times when there has been a lot of frustration and questioning, whether it be his own game, his teammates, the organization or whatever. You wonder when things aren't going well. The expectations were that they would have been back in more Finals than they've been and maybe won a couple more along the way. To have the determination to stick with it is something that he should be proud of and it should be regarded highly from other people."

Crosby stuck with it this season too. He had a very un-Crosby-like start with no points in the first six games and 22 in 32 games by Christmas. Worse, the Penguins were a mess, 16-14-3, out of a playoff position, trying to learn a new style under coach Mike Sullivan, who took over for Mike Johnston on Dec. 12.

Considering how last season ended, the questions regarding Crosby's greatness and his stature as the best player in the world was real. Dare we ask, was he still the best in the world?

Many dared. Crosby had to answer, for himself and for the Penguins. That's his responsibility as the face of the franchise, the face of the NHL. Nobody else has that responsibility.

He never skirted it. He never has. He responded with 63 points in his last 48 games. He is a Hart Trophy finalist.

"That's the character he's had," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said. "The guy has been in the media since Day One, and the guy has never changed. He had to grow up through all of this and always take it on his shoulders. That's the role he has in the media. He does it every single day.

"The expectation is always above and beyond everybody else."

Crosby didn't ask for all of this; his talent demands it. He knows that. He knows that nobody else in the NHL faces greater pressure to be great on a game-to-game basis more than he does.

Alex Ovechkin might come close, but he did not come into the League with the same fanfare as Crosby. The Washington Capitals captain didn't have the torch passed to him the way Crosby had it passed to him from Gretzky, who got it from Howe. Ovechkin also hasn't won the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal.

"That's the pressure that these guys have, the Wayne Gretzkys, Mario Lemieuxs and Sidney Crosbys of the world," Brodeur said. "It's all about winning the Stanley Cup, being winners. It validates him. The window closes and you have to take advantage. He did."

Twice, in the Olympics and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And he's not done.

Crosby will keep trying to win the Cup. He's only 28, very much in his prime. Who knows, maybe he'll get a chance to win another Olympic gold medal. That's still to be determined. We already know he'll have a chance to win with Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

If he does, it'll further cement his legacy, one that can never be questioned again.

The argument is over. Sidney Crosby wins.

"It shows you're persistent, you're not satisfied," Crosby said Wednesday when he was asked what he thought winning the Cup again would mean. "It's difficult to win once, let alone twice. I think it says a lot.

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