PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The so-called Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight. Maybe hockey is ready for an addition to its vernacular: the Sidney Crosby hat trick.
A goal, an assist and a save.
Crosby single-handedly kept the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins from going down 2-0 in their first-round playoff series against Ottawa, making a series of how-did-he-do-that plays that only an elite-level player can make. Plays that, teammate Kris Letang said, “are why he’s Sidney Crosby ? he’s special.”
Crosby’s goal was timely. His save was a fortunate merger of luck and exceptional reaction time. The assist was, well, Crosby at his best as he led the Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Senators on Friday night, tying the Eastern Conference first-round series at one game apiece.
With the score tied 1-1 late in the third only because Crosby slid across the goal line to punch Anton Volchenkov’s shot away a few minutes before, Crosby began carrying the puck back and forth behind the net by himself, crisscrossing the goalie trapezoid three times as he looked for an opening.
Finally, before sliding to the ice, he fed the puck to Letang at the right point, and the defenceman’s shot beat goalie Brian Elliott for the deciding goal with 4:12 remaining.
The Senators probably felt they played well enough to win on the road despite not getting any goals after Peter Regin scored on their first shot with 18 seconds gone. But they don’t have Crosby, and he was the difference in a physical, defence-driven game.
“That’s what he does best,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said.
That’s what worries the Senators.
“It’s impossible to stop him, especially every night,” coach Cory Clouston said. “He was the best player on the ice and he showed what he is able to do. When they needed a goal, he made a big play.”
When they needed a save, Crosby made a big play.
With Ottawa pressing to take the lead with slightly more than nine minutes remaining, Volchenkov’s long wrist shot deflected off goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and scooted toward the goal-line. It might have gone in, but Crosby dove across the crease and pushed the puck away with his stick.
Crosby doesn’t know if it would have gone in without his intervention, and doesn’t want to know.
“Right place, right time,” he said. “I didn’t want to watch it (later on replay). I know it was close. … It’s a split second, but 8,000 things are rushing through your mind.”
A relieved Fleury said, “The puck was out of my reach and I kind of saw him go by behind me. I said a big ‘Thank you’ to Sid.”
The Penguins similarly thanked Fleury, who bounced back from Ottawa’s 5-4 victory in Game 1 to make 19 saves after Regin scored for the second time in as many games.
“It’s definitely not the way I wanted to start and it was a little bit frustrating, but I knew there was a lot of game still to play and I had to stay focused and calm and make the next save,” Fleury said.
And he did. With Crosby’s help, of course.
Crosby ? who else ? came back to tie it at 8:45 of the first period by flipping a backhander off Chris Kunitz’s rebound past Elliott.
The game became decidedly more physical than the opener after Ottawa’s Andy Sutton levelled defenceman Jordan Leopold with his left elbow late in the first period. Leopold was on the ice for several minutes before being helped to the locker-room and didn’t return. Sutton was not penalized.
“He’s suffering from the hit, and he’ll be evaluated further,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, offering few details about Leopold’s injury.
Sutton denied he targeted Leopold’s head or raised his elbow to strike him. He drew a two-game suspension in January for a hit on Pascal Dupuis that caused the Penguins forward to miss a game because he couldn’t see out of a swollen eye.
There were numerous big hits from both teams Sutton put Leopold out of the game, but the Penguins said they couldn’t get distracted from the task of winning what might have been a must-win game to retaliate.
“We were tested, for sure, we had to deal with some adversity, but that’s what the playoffs are all about,” forward Bill Guerin said. “It’s nothing any of us haven’t seen before, so we just have to deal with it the best we can and move on.”
They’ll move on to Ottawa for Game 3 on Sunday, with the underdog Senators likely feeling more confident than they were before Game 1. They led three times by multiple goals in the opener, and one more goal Friday might have given them a 2-0 series lead.
“We almost put one in; they got the last one,” forward Jason Spezza said. “It shows how this series is going to go. We’re not satisfied with it, we wanted to try to steal two here, but you have got to look at the positive. We’re going home now and hopefully we can use our crowd and our momentum there.”