Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel were reunited on a line for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Pittsburgh Penguins won 6-0 to take a 3-2 series lead over the Nashville Predators on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
'Sid and the Kids' combined for a goal and four assists in the win, reigniting the spectacular chemistry the trio had at the end of the regular season and start of the postseason - making Sheary's 25th birthday extra special.
While it was Sheary who got the goal, it was Crosby who stole the spotlight. The captain absolutely set the tone with his play, which was just on another level. Not only did he register three assists - he made his presence known all over the ice.
"Our whole team just follows it. It's really awesome," Matt Cullen said of Crosby's play. "He just tells you 'come and follow me' by the way he's playing. I thought last game he did it too, we just weren't able to get it done. When he's driving like that, he's just the engine that gets our whole team going, and he was awesome tonight."
On the very first shift of the game, Crosby split two Nashville defenders to get a mini-breakaway and ring a shot off the post, drawing a penalty that would lead to Pittsburgh's first goal of the game. It was scored by Justin Schultz - and, fittingly enough, set up by Crosby.
It was one of those moments that reminds you just how great of a player Crosby truly is - though the whole game was a reflection of that.
"I had some speed and we had a pretty quick play," Crosby said of splitting the defense on that first shift. "I wasn't sure if they were trying to get up and get their gap or back off. I felt like they were maybe on their way up to get a gap and just try to take it to the net. It was a great play by the D and I think it was 'Shears' who moved it quick, and I was able to get some speed there."
Sometimes the young wingers are in awestruck of what their centerman can do.
"When you get a puck to a player like that when he's full speed, he can do dangerous things," Guentzel (literally) whistled after the game, laughing and shaking his head in disbelief.
Crosby's three points on the night brought his total to 20 Stanley Cup Final points in his career, passing up Mario Lemieux for the club record. His 16 assists in Stanley Cup Final games are also a team record.
Head coach Mike Sullivan often talks about Crosby playing inspiring hockey, and Thursday night was arguably the best example of that to date.
"You can see his desire in his day-to-day approach," Sullivan said. "And I've said this on so many occasions: What I've really grown to admire and respect about Sid is not only is he a talented player, because there's a lot of talented players; I just think he has such a drive to be the best, and he's willing to do what it takes. He doesn't just show up to the rink and put his equipment on. He controls everything within his power to be the very best. I don't know if I've been around an athlete - not just a hockey player, but an athlete - that is as driven as Sid is."
One minute into the second period, Crosby spearheaded yet another strong offensive zone shift that led to Sheary's goal.
He then made a backhand pass from behind the goal line to Sheary in front of the net, who lifted it over the right pad of Nashville goalie Juuse Saros - who had replaced Pekka Rinne - to put the Pens up 4-0.
Video: NSH@PIT, Gm5: Sheary pads lead, Guentzel ties record
"We had a little offensive-zone shift there," Sheary said. "'Guentz' actually gave me a chance right before that, and it hit the d-man's skate. Sid picked it up and found me backdoors. It was a pass right on my tape, and the pass beat the goalie, so I just had to put it in the open net. You can't really draw that up when Sid makes that play, but it was a great play all around."
The 22-year-old Guentzel is playing inspiring hockey of his own. He had the secondary assist on the Sheary goal, marking his 5th point of the Stanley Cup Final and his 21st of the playoffs.
"I just think Jake is a really good hockey player," Sullivan said. "He's got great hockey sense. He's a competitive guy. I think he has a quiet confidence about him. He knows he's a good player. He knows that he can help this team win. And he's done that throughout the course of this Playoffs. No stage is too big for him. You know, he has great poise with the puck in all zones.
On Thursday morning Sheary wouldn't disclose his birthday wishes to the media on Thursday, but, by his smile after the game, it's safe to assume that some of them came true.
However, if you ask Crosby, the success of those three has nothing to do with wishes or magic.
"I think we're just moving our feet," Crosby said. "When you're moving your feet and you're creating turnovers, you're quick to pucks - there's opportunities there. I think just like everybody; we did a good job of that and got rewarded for it."