And he sounded wise beyond his years Thursday when downplaying his role in getting the Pittsburgh Penguins back on track in their first-round playoffs series with the Ottawa Senators. “It’s not me versus the Senators,” Crosby said after practice. “It’s our team. Maybe sometimes people don’t realize that but that’s the way it is. And we’re not going to get anywhere without our group.
“I’m not going to help my team by trying to do it myself.”
The 19-year-old superstar was largely kept in check in Wednesday night’s 6-3 loss in Game 1 at Scotiabank Place, scoring a late power-play goal but only getting three shots on net.
“I know he’s capable of playing better,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said of Crosby. “He’s got a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old, there’s no question. But he played pretty decent, he skated and made some nice plays. But like the rest of the team we weren’t at our best.”
Game 2 goes Saturday afternoon 3 p.m. ET with the Penguins hoping to go home with a split in the opening two games.
Veteran Gary Roberts, Crosby’s left winger on the top line, said it was unfair for people to expect the young Crosby to carry the Pens on his shoulders.
“It’s not going to happen,” said the 40-year-old Roberts. “One guy doesn’t carry a team in hockey, it’s just not the way it works. You need 20 guys, you need to have a great support cast. And I think we have that here. Sid, obviously he didn’t win the scoring title for no reason, he’s the best player in the game. But he still needs good people around him to help him and to make him better.
“I know people are putting more pressure on him than needs to be, but it’s a team effort.”
Marc-Andre Fleury will be back in goal after being pulled late in Game 1, like the rest of Pittsburgh’s group of youngster feeling the jitters somewhat in his first-ever playoff game.
“He gave up six goals but I’m glad the first game, his first playoff game in the NHL, is behind him,” said Therrien. “It’s big for those kids. We’re a team that’s got a lot of attention all year long, first of all because of Sidney Crosby. Now the playoffs are another level.
“It’s OK. We had a bad day. Now come on and let’s go.”
The Senators expect a different Penguins team.
“They’re going to come out hard, no question about it,” said Ottawa defenceman Chris Phillips. “They had a lot of guys who it was their first playoff game yesterday. Maybe they were caught up in more stuff off the ice and you expect that to settle down a little bit.”
Veteran Pittsburgh defenceman Sergei Gonchar said the nervous reaction from his younger teammates was to be expected.
“It’s normal. If you experience something new in your life, it doesn’t matter what it is, you’ll be nervous about it,” said Gonchar. “But this is behind us now. The guys have learned from that.”
The Senators, meanwhile, hope to achieve something they have never done in their modern history, take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. In other words, show that killer instinct.
“It’s something we definitely have to do,” said Phillips. “Road teams come in and look for a split and that can still be achieved. Last night means nothing without a big effort and a big win Saturday. . . .
“We definitely want to go right after them and come out with the same effort, the same intensity and take the play to them.”
The Penguins are already tired of hearing that maybe this isn’t their year, that their young core must take their lumps in their first playoff experience and come back stronger for it next year.
“I’m sure it’s easy to say. Some teams in the past have had to lose in order to be successful,” said Crosby. “But you look at Edmonton last year, go all the way to the Cup final, I mean, who would have thought that? You can learn just as quickly winning as you can losing, I think.
“By no means is that our mindset, that we’re just here to play it out. We’re the underdogs, yes, everyone knows that, but we’d be cheating ourselves if we did that. We have a lot more pride.”
Roberts rolled his eyes at the much bandied-about theory.
“If we were thinking that way we might as well just pack our bags and go home now,” Roberts said. “We really believe we have a chance to win this series. And we know we have to be better than we were last night.”
The Penguins, after all, racked up the same 105 points in the regular season as Ottawa.
“This is a team that’s bounced back throughout the course of the season,” Therrien said. “You have to give those kids credit, because they’re in the playoffs. It’s pretty simple, we have to prove that we’re capable of bouncing back in the playoffs.”