by: Dejan Kovacevic, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - Don't ask. Just don't. I haven't got answers anymore than anyone else.
And honestly, I don't care at the moment.
I don't care why it took Sidney Crosby the better part of two weeks to suddenly, sensationally burst onto the Stanley Cup playoff scene Sunday night at Consol Energy Center. To run up a half-dozen shots. To torment New York's defensemen shift after shift. To spin and whirl and fire and even slam a couple of Rangers into the boards. To punch through the players assigned to check him rather than turn the other cheek. To do pretty much everything but register a point or that icebreaking goal.
To lead his Penguins, in every way imaginable, to that 3-0 shutout of the Rangers in Game 2 and tie their second-round series.
“Sid was awesome,” linemate Brian Gibbons was telling me afterward. “I think that's the best I've seen him play in a long time. He's had games where he's had more points, obviously. But I've never seen someone win so many battles ... the way he took their best hits and just kept going and going.”
Gibbons, seated at the stall next to the captain's, paused and added: “We just followed his lead.”
They sure did, and it didn't take much to see that. Or to hear about it.
Lee Stempniak: “He was moving really well.”
Marc-Andre Fleury: “He was flying. It was nice to see that out there.”
Kris Letang: “To see Sid play like that, I think, was really inspiring for everybody in our dressing room. He was really dangerous.”
Assistant coach Tony Granato: “You should've heard Sid on the bench. We all fed off him.”
Get the picture?
OK, so here are four things we know for certain now:
1. Crosby isn't hurt. Or if he is, it isn't debilitating. Because no human or even superhuman does all that he did Sunday while injured, no matter how much Wheaties, caffeine or cortisone gets consumed.
2. Something else was really wrong with Crosby in the first round and change — most of which saw him disoriented, even disengaged. And it positively boggles the mind whatever that might have been.
3. His teammates clearly noticed, judging by their responses to his resurrection.
4. So what?
Yeah, hard explanations are due. Maybe they'll come in time. Maybe they won't.
They didn't come Sunday as Crosby, in a great rarity, didn't meet with reporters after the game. No explanation was offered by the team and, really, given his extraordinary cooperation with the media — he might answer as many questions as every other athlete in Pittsburgh combined — none should be sought. It's a mulligan richly deserved.
And again, there will be a time for that. For now, all that matters to the Penguins is that the best player in the world looks all the way back. Nothing that came of this victory matches that in importance. Because without Crosby, or with whatever phantom simulation had been taking his place to this point, they're just another team. Moreover, they lack their very heart, their identity.
So yeah, it was wonderful to see Fleury take another stride toward playoff maturity with a 22-save shutout. It was encouraging to see Letang not only run up a goal and two assists but also rediscover some of his old swagger. And it was reassuring to see Evgeni Malkin buzzing his way back to top form, Paul Martin continuing to dominate the blue line, Matt Niskanen leading with four hits on a night when Tanner Glass was scratched and Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz and James Neal reminding everyone that the Penguins are supposed to have elite wingers, too.
To say nothing of actually putting forth a consistent effort for the entirety of 60 minutes.
“A good hockey game by us,” Dan Bylsma called it. “And hard-fought. No question about that.”
Right. And all of that started with Crosby, who broke through in more ways than one.
The word, especially at playoff time, is that he doesn't like to be hit, doesn't like a glove in his face, doesn't like agitation. The word is that he'll turn away rather than fight. And by fight, I'm talking about those “battles” Gibbons described. The kind that all great players have to win this time of year because that's just the nature of the beast.
No, he didn't get that goal. And this time, I don't care about that, either. As Stempniak put it: “He had chances. It's coming. I can tell.”
That's because it's coming like a freight train. Finally.
(Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.)