(Reuters) – Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby capped off a renaissance season when he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy on Sunday as the most valuable player in the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Crosby did not score in the best-of-seven series, won 4-2 by Pittsburgh, but he played a strong two-way game. He had a pair of assists in Game Six, including one on the game-winning goal and another on a late empty-net goal that sealed a Cup clinching 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
“It’s not easy to get here,” said Crosby. “Having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit.
“You don’t think you do at the time, but it’s not easy to get to this point.”
While the Penguins were dominant in the six-game series, their march to the championship began in a bumpy fashion last fall.
Crosby struggled mightily, checking in with a disappointing three goals and 11 points in his opening 20 games.
“We were just trying to find a way to keep our playoff hopes alive,” the 28-year-old Crosby said. “This wasn’t in the picture.
“We just got better and came together, especially in the second half.”
Crosby was much better in the second half, too.
A new coach Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston and immediately injected a system to put more speed in Pittsburgh’s game.
This suited Crosby just fine. He flourished under the new system to finish third in the NHL scoring with 36 goals and 85 points in 80 games.
“Mike came in and made it pretty clear how he wanted us to play, what he expected from each individual guy,” said Crosby. “I think guys just welcomed the opportunity, welcomed the challenge, tried to get back on track.
“It took some time. Didn’t happen overnight.”
The Conn Smythe Trophy was the one major award missing on Crosby’s resume.
He already had two Olympic gold medals, a Stanley Cup, two Hart Trophies as the league regular-season MVP and two Art Ross Trophies as the NHL scoring champion.
Last spring, he won a World Championship with Canada to become the 26th member of the Triple Gold Club for those who have won Olympic gold, a Stanley Cup and a World Championship.
The latest Penguins title came on the seven-year anniversary of the last time Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, when Crosby suffered a knee injury early in the second period of the series finale against the Detroit Red Wings and could only sit on the bench and watch his teammates close the deal.
This playoff run, however, was different for Crosby. He didn’t score a goal in the final series, but still produced six goals and 19 points in 24 games and he was so good defensively.
“You have to make sure you’re contributing other ways (than scoring goals),” said Crosby. “Whether that is creating momentum, drawing penalties, winning faceoffs, everything that it takes, all those little details go a long way.
“There’s more to winning games than scoring goals.”
(Reporting by Tim Wharnsby in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue/Steve Keating)