This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs may turn into a case study that proves criticism only makes Sidney Crosby stronger.
The Penguins headed into Game 6 against the Lightning with their backs against the wall. The Bolts held a 3-2 series lead with a chance to clinch a berth in the Cup Final on home ice Tuesday night, but Crosby and his Pens came through with a dominant victory to force a do-or-die Game 7 in Pittsburgh.
Just a day after having his captaincy and leadership questioned by a writer with the hottest of takes, Crosby was instrumental in keeping the Penguins’ season alive as he put together multi-point game in enemy territory. In the first period, he helped set up Phil Kessel with a one-timer that opened the scoring.
Then towards the end of the second period, Crosby scored a vintage Crosby goal. He gathered the puck and blew past Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman — the Lightning’s two best defenders — with a great power move before beating goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Those plays resulted in Crosby’s 132nd and 133rd career postseason points in his 117th playoff game. The Penguins have three wins in the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa, and Crosby has the game-winning goal in each of those wins.
Stats like those alone should be enough to shut up anyone who says his presence isn’t felt or that he doesn’t inspire those around him when it counts. Somehow, though, it probably won’t be. Some people need to hear mic’d up rah-rah speeches or see inspiration being spoon-fed to teammates before they’ll believe someone can show leadership.
Fortunately for Crosby, he’s developing a knack for making the take-ists eat their words with his performance on the ice. Earlier in this series, Crosby scored a gorgeous overtime game-winner fresh on the heels of comments from Jeremy Roenick that questioned Crosby’s work ethic and compete level. He’s normally great, but it’s almost like Crosby finds another gear when anyone questions him.
Of course, this won’t do anything to stop the future hot takes, especially if the Penguins end up falling to the Lightning in Game 7. For some reason, the media is obsessed with placing blame on individual players, especially when those players happen to be elite stars. (See also: Ovechkin, Alexander & Lundqvist, Henrik.)
This tendency is typically a stupid and lazy one when it comes to most sports, but especially so in hockey — a sport so heavily predicated on depth and reliant on all-around team play. Even the game’s best skaters — such as Crosby — only see a fraction of the game’s action, so choosing to point fingers at those guys even when they perform is a curious method of analysis. But, hey, narratives!
The dangerous thing about pointing fingers at guys who are regarded as the game’s elite is that they’re typically regarded as such for good reason. They’re going to remind you they’re great quite often, and Crosby has certainly done a good job at picking his spots thus far this postseason.