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The best 200-foot player in the game

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens clung desperately to a 3-1 lead late in the third period on Sunday against Carolina in a critical contest for playoff positioning. But the Hurricanes were swarming. 

Pittsburgh was trapped in the defensive zone for the majority of that final period as Carolina peppered goaltender Matt Murray with shot after shot after shot. The Hurricanes put 20 shots on the board in the final frame. 

But when the game was at its most crucial in the waning minutes, the team turned to its captain. 

Sidney Crosby was on the ice for three of the final five minutes of the game as Pittsburgh held on for a win that helped solidify their playoff positioning and kept alive their hopes of earning home-ice advantage in the First Round. 

"I thought his defensive play was on display tonight," head coach Mike Sullivan said of Crosby after the game. 

The Pens have relied on Crosby all year long in dire defensive situations. Whether it's late in games, killing penalties, facing the opposition's best line or winning defensive zone faceoffs, Crosby has been the club's go-to guy all year.  

"I think when people look at Sid and his game, they don't think about his defense because he's so dynamic offensively and always has been," Sullivan said. "But when you look at his overall game, it's the most complete game I think that any player possesses."

Crosby has still been getting the job done on the offensive side of the game. He leads the club with 94 points and 61 assists while producing his ninth 30-goal campaign (33). But the extra attention he's garnered with his defensive play has sparked talk of him being a candidate for the NHL's Selke Trophy - which is given "to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game."

"I don't think about (winning the award), but I definitely want to be responsible defensively," Crosby said. "Overall, you try to be really good defensively and it definitely helps offensively if you are."

Boosting Crosby's cause this season has been his addition to the team's penalty killing unit. 

"It's a big responsibility for whoever goes out to get those kills, so those situations are fun to be in," Crosby said. "The end zone is a little different depending on who you play, trying to be aware of passing lanes and things like that. As far as team's breakouts there is a lot of anticipation and just reading plays that come a little bit quicker."

Boston's Patrice Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy on four occasions (2012, '14, '15, '17). He has also played alongside Crosby in international competitions like the Olympic Winter Games and World Cup of Hockey. 

Bergeron knows what it takes to win the Selke, and he believes Crosby has done enough to be recognized. 

"I think Sid measures well against anyone, really," Bergeron said. "He's the best in the business so I think he's one of those guys that takes pride in every aspect of the game. He wants to improve and get better at whatever he does."

While the award is supposed to go to the best defensive forward, it has evolved into an award for the best two-way player. 

"You get a reputation of being good defensively," said Anaheim's Ryan Kesler, who won the award in 2011. "I think the league looks at it as more of a two-way honor. They don't necessarily take the best defensive player.

"(Crosby) is one of the best players in the league and you get that way by being good in both ends." 

Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, last season's Selke winner, said it's a very simple formula to winning the award. 

"Be a good 200-foot player," he said. 

If that's the case, Sullivan already knows who should win the trophy. 

"(Crosby) is the best 200-foot player in the game," he said. "I think without a doubt he should be in the conversation. He could've been in the conversation for a number of years now. I do think his defensive game gets overlooked because of how good he is offensively."

The Selke is a subjective award. Half of the battle is just becoming part of the conversation.  

"It's good to be in that conversation," Crosby said. "There are guys every year you think about, Bergeron and Kopitar. Those two guys seem to be in the mix a lot of the time and if I could be a conversation with them, that's a compliment."

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