DETROIT – Sidney Crosby has grown up before the eyes of the hockey world.
Having spent so much time in the Canadian hockey spotlight, the 21-year-old has now reached the pinnacle of the sport – lifting the Stanley Cup after Pittsburgh’s 2-1 Game 7 win on Friday even after suffering an injury in the deciding game. He can be Sid the Kid no more.
It was less than four years ago in Ottawa that Crosby was selected first overall by a Penguins franchise that was among the worst in the NHL. Who would have imagined he’d be here now?
“It’s a dream come true,” said Crosby, who received a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper following the victory. “It’s everything you imagined and more. I would have loved to do it in four, it would have been a lot easier on the nerves. It was so hard watching the clock tick down for that whole third period.
“But everything it took to win, we did it. Blocking shots, great goaltending, different guys stepping up. I mean, we did exactly everything it takes to win.”
The trophy case is filling up quickly – there’s already a Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy and scoring title to go with the Stanley Cup ring.
Even Crosby is a bit surprised at the career arc.
“I don’t think I was even close to looking this far ahead,” he said when asked about what he’s done since draft day. “I think as a young group and the team that’s been put together here, we’ve probably accelerated that learning curve more than a lot of people thought.”
He certainly would have liked to author a more storybook ending to the finale. His left knee got pinned hard against the boards on a hit by Johan Franzen early in the second period, suffering an injury that limited him to just one shift in the third period.
However, that situation is arguably where Crosby demonstrated most why he is the leader of the Penguins.
“You get to a point where you’ve got to ask yourself whether you’re going to be hurting your team by being out there,” he said. “And I knew I had everything I could to numb it or try to play through it. But at the same time, I’m playing against (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg.
“One misstep and I could cost the guys a lot of hard work. I didn’t want to be the guy who did that.”
It didn’t keep him from coming out and receiving the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman.
Crosby finished these playoffs with 15 goals and 31 points, leaving him second in scoring to teammate Evgeni Malkin. They were head and shoulders above every other scorer.
However, Crosby’s contribution went well beyond the number of points he put up.
“You know what, he is our team,” said Max Talbot, who scored both Pittsburgh goals in Game 7. “He is the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Penguins and I think everybody knows that. If they don’t, well I’m telling you, he is our leader. What he brings every day to the rink is special.
“The pressure he had to go through to become that player is really special.”
The biggest testament to Crosby’s influence on the final was the fact that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock chose to match Zetterberg against him rather than Malkin. It was a fairly effective strategy as Crosby was held pointless in five games during the series.
It was also a clear indication that the Wings were intent on making sure No. 87 didn’t beat them on his own.
Crosby effectively did that to the Washington Capitals in the second round, outduelling Alex Ovechkin and putting up a staggering 13 points over seven games.
He has established himself as a top performer in the playoffs over the past two years. Even though he’ll likely never touch some of Wayne Gretzky’s scoring records, he managed to lift the Stanley Cup sooner.
Crosby was 21 years 10 months five days old when Bettman presented him with the trophy on Friday night – the youngest captain ever to accept it. Gretzky was a little over 23 when his Edmonton Oilers won their first championship in May 1984.
Those aren’t the only interesting numbers.
Crosby is one of the more superstitious players out there so it only seemed fitting that Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final came at a pretty telling time – it was the 87th and final game of these playoffs.
“After (losing) last year it was pretty devastating to everybody,” said Crosby. “But we found a way to claw our way back and finally finish it off.”