by: Josh Yohe, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - He isn't really Sid the Kid anymore.
Of course, he hasn't touched the Stanley Cup since he was a kid.
Sidney Crosby, now 26, will attempt to cap a dream season by claiming the Stanley Cup for the first time in five years.
Another Olympic gold medal was his in February. He won the Art Ross Trophy in a runaway, and the Hart Trophy almost certainly belongs to him in June.
There is another trophy awarded in June.
“I've learned to appreciate the opportunity that the playoffs present,” Crosby said.
Last man standing
The early portion of Crosby's prime years has been dominated by serious injuries. He missed the 2011 postseason because of a concussion, wasn't 100 percent during the 2012 postseason because of lingering concussion problems and never displayed dominance in the 2013 postseason because of a broken jaw.
Now Crosby enters the playoffs healthy.
“I'm happy for him because I see him work in the summer, and I see the dedication he has to being the best player in the world,” right wing Chuck Kobasew said. “He's the best on and off the ice, and I'm happy to be on the same side as him when the playoffs start.”
Unlike their Stanley Cup team in 2009, these Penguins are not deep. The third and fourth lines have been a revolving door of unproductiveness. Center Evgeni Malkin, right wing James Neal and defenseman Kris Letang have struggled to stay in the lineup.
Through it all, Crosby took the NHL scoring lead in his fifth game of the season and never relinquished it, becoming the only player to eclipse 100 points. Such consistent dominance from the Penguins' captain almost certainly will be required for the Penguins to win a championship this spring.
“Yeah, there's pressure,” said Crosby's former right wing Bill Guerin, the Penguins' player-development coach. “But I never bet against him when there's pressure. He's been dealing with it since he was 12. It has never stopped him.”
New and improved
Crosby still produces points at prodigious levels, still provides highlight-reel material and universally is regarded as hockey's finest player.
Guerin sees something more.
“What's different now,” he said, “is that Sid isn't just the best player now. He's in control of the game now. There's a difference.”
Guerin, who skated with Crosby when the Penguins claimed the Stanley Cup in 2009, expects a spectacular spring.
The Penguins aren't as deep as in previous seasons, but Guerin insists Crosby's refined game, his physical prime seems to be meshing with experience and wisdom — gives them a chance for postseason glory.
“I see things now that I never saw before,” Guerin said. “Just little things. He's so much more calculated now. He knows what's at stake, and he's so smart. See, he knows he has to be at his best in the playoffs. Great players always understand that. They time it. He's been preparing himself for this postseason for a while.”
A growing captain
Crosby was named Penguins captain at 19, and the Penguins never have missed the playoffs during his tenure. Growing evidence suggests he has emerged as more of a vocal leader than in previous seasons.
Rookie Olli Maatta said one of the biggest reasons for his immediate impact on the Penguins is traceable to Crosby.
“I still remember my first few games and the way Sid talked with me,” Maatta said. “He always wanted me to be at my best. He made that really clear to me. Especially in my first 10 games, he would pull me aside on the bench and tell me what my options were, what I did well and maybe what I could have done better. It was a great help.”
The time is now
Crosby joked during the NHL lockout in 2012 that “maybe I'll be like a race horse who gets better later in his career” because of the injuries that had robbed him of playing time.
Four postseasons in his 20s remain, and while Crosby's legs might be fresher than most his age, he sounds hungry to pounce on another championship.
“Each year you get banged up more and more,” he said. “You appreciate how hard it is to win it all. It's not easy. It really isn't.
“I just want to make the most of a chance like this. I like this team. We got pretty close last year. But expectations here are higher than that.”
Crosby, when reminded he hasn't lifted the Cup in five years, said no one should be shocked.
“It's hard,” he said. “Look around. Look at Boston, San Jose, Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim, Los Angeles. There are a lot of great hockey teams.”
But there is only one Crosby. And while he's hardly one to boast, he sounds inspired to make a splash in these playoffs.
“I won't be able to say when I was at my best until later in my career,” Crosby said. “But I know one thing: I feel pretty good right now.”
(Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.)
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