So there was Sidney Crosby, being cross-examined by a media throng while sitting at his stall inside the visiting dressing room at Madison Square Garden a little after 11 o’clock Saturday night.
The topic of the give-and-take was the consensus best player in the world’s offensive production in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and against the Rangers in particular.
Nothing new there.Crosby hasbeen answering questions about his lack of tangible results for a few springs, as he only had one goal to his name in the last 19 playoff games he played in. Against the Rangers in particular, he only found the back of the net once in 13 playoff games.The numbers were staggering and incomprehensible.
Key word: Were.
For on this night, the underlying message to the questions of Crosby had changed. Significantly. Instead of being asked why he was unable to produce, he was being asked how it felt to produce.
“It’s good to get rewarded,” Crosby said after the Penguins evened the Metropolitan Division Semifinals at one game apiece with a 4-3 win over the Rangers.
Centering Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz on Pittsburgh’s top line, Crosby finished with two goals and three shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time, numbers that don’t begin to detail the quality of his play.
Seemingly on every shift, Crosby found himself weaving all over the Garden’s ice, the puck on his blade. His presence forced the Rangers to back off, which allowed his linemates room to operate.
Kunitz had a goal and two assists, while Hornqvist recorded an assist.
“Sometimes in the playoffs you play well and you don’t always get the result you want,” Crosby said. “I thought we continued from the end of [Game 1]. I thought we were more aggressive towards the end of the last game and we proved that.”
While Crosby is correct — the Penguins attacked the Rangers in the third period of Game 1 and pressed when presented opportunities in Game 2 — this isn’t the same squad that was among the NHL’s pre-eminent offensive squads.
Under first year coach Mike Johnston, the mantra for the Penguins is to be defensively conscious. Even understanding that, Johnston was not about to turn down Crosby’s labors.
“We’re still searching for good offensive output without giving up anything defensively,” Johnston said. “The guy to put with [Crosby] is [Kunitz] because he’s played with him and there is some comfort there. We flip-flopped wingers with [Daniel Winnick] and [Evgeni Malkin] to start the game. We try to bump guys around but generally we stuck with those lines. I thought [Kunitz] had a good game overall.
“The key to the game was our four centers. [Crosby and Malkin] had great games.”
Perhaps it was Alain Vigneault, who best summarized Crosby’s evening.
“He’s a great player, Vigneault said. “The best players in the NHL are going to get some looks and he got some looks.”