PITTSBURGH – Maybe now Alexander Semin knows what’s special about Sidney Crosby.
It’s not as if Crosby, the omnipresent face of the NHL since being drafted in 2005, needed the enthralling Capitals-Penguins second-round playoff series to validate his skill, competitiveness and drive. To reassure the league that he’s more than a playmaker, that he also can be a clutch goal-scorer when needed.
Maybe there was a bit of an edge to Crosby’s game because of the Alex Ovechkin factor during a seven-game series that felt more like the Stanley Cup finals than a conference semifinal, at least until the Penguins ended it with a dominating 6-2 victory Wednesday night.
Crosby, though he won’t say it, felt a tad slighted when he wasn’t one of three finalists for the NHL MVP award, and heard all the talk that Washington’s Ovechkin had eclipsed him to become the league’s signature figure and best player.
Maybe Crosby didn’t need to score one more goal than Ovechkin, 12-11, through two rounds to prove again what he’s all about.
To validate what he did last season at age 20 by leading the Penguins to within two victories of the Stanley Cup. Or what he did at age 19 by becoming the league’s MVP and scoring leader.
But his teammates know this, and there are no maybes about it: Give Crosby a big stage and, no matter who else is starring, there will be few questions by the end who is carrying the show.
Crosby lives for these moments, these games, and now he has at least one more round to show it – the Eastern Conference finals against Carolina that begin Monday night in Pittsburgh, with Game 2 there on Thursday.
Carolina eliminated top-seeded Boston by winning 3-2 in an overtime Game 7 of their semifinal series Thursday night.
Game 3 (Saturday, May 23) and Game 4 (Tuesday, May 26) will be at Carolina. If necessary, Game 5 will be at Pittsburgh on Friday, May 29, with Game 6 at Carolina on Sunday, May 31 and Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, June 2.
Crosby already has helped the Penguins become the first team since the 1996 Red Wings to get back to a conference final the season after losing in the finals, and there is every indication he isn’t done yet.
“There’s a steely resolve about (Crosby) when big games come around,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “For Game 6 in Philadelphia (in the first round), I didn’t know quite what it meant but I was pretty sure it meant he was going to have a big game.
“He was that way for every game in this series.”
Especially for Penguins-Capitals Game 7, the one Washington clunker in a series that is likely to go down as one of the best preliminary rounds in NHL history. In Pittsburgh, the final three games drew NFL playoff-like TV ratings, with Game 7 drawing an average rating of 24.97 on FSN Pittsburgh.
(For comparison’s sake, the average national rating for a regular season game on Versus is about 1/50th of that.)
Early in the season, Semin dismissed Crosby as being more of a media creation than a substantial player, saying: “What’s so special about Crosby? I don’t see anything special there. Yes, he does skate well, has a good head, (a) good pass.
“But there’s nothing else.”
Crosby didn’t need those remarks, or several run-ins with Ovechkin during the season, to gain extra motivation.
The fact that Crosby took over this series should tell anyone what he thinks about Semin’s talking or Ovechkin’s on-ice mocking of him late in the season.
Semin didn’t score a goal in the series.
“There were a lot of eyes on this series, it was a battle,” Crosby said of his first playoff matchup with Ovechkin. “Individually, we both wanted to make sure we did a great job.”
They did, too: Ovechkin had 14 points in the series, including a meaningless goal after Pittsburgh was up 5-0 in Game 7, and Crosby had 13 points.
The NHL probably hasn’t seen a star vs. star matchup like this since the Maurice (Rocket) Richard vs. Gordie Howe days.
Crosby’s maturation into a big-game player – he had four goals and an assist in Pittsburgh’s close-out games against the Capitals and Flyers – no doubt will be a big worry for the Hurricanes.
Pittsburgh was 2-1-1 against Carolina during the season.
“He’s one of those guys who never stops,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “We like to joke about how competitive he is. That’s what makes him as a good as he is.
“Based on just talent, he’s probably not the most talented guy in the league, but I’m sure there’s anybody who works any harder than him.”