PITTSBURGH – There is simply no detail that Sidney Crosby wants to leave to chance.
So as he stepped on the ice for his second shift of overtime on Wednesday, he gathered his teammates around and told them how it was going to be. He was going to win the faceoff back to Kris Letang. Letang was going to make a pass rather than take a shot.
And the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to win the game.
Care to guess how it played out?
“He’s an elite player,” said Letang. “He believes in himself, he’s confident, so that doesn’t surprise me.”
It was rookie Conor Sheary that pulled the trigger on the winner, giving him two goals in two career Stanley Cup Final games. Most importantly for the Penguins, it amounted to a 2-0 lead over the San Jose Sharks with the series heading west.
They were clearly the better team in both games played so far, but still needed some big moments to pull them out.
On Monday it was Nick Bonino scoring with less than three minutes left in regulation for a 3-2 win. Sheary’s goal 2:35 into overtime gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
The reason why Crosby didn’t want Letang to one-time the puck off the draw is because he figured the Sharks would be coming with pressure. A blocked shot almost certainly would have resulted in an odd-man rush the other way.
Plus there was the element of surprise in having Letang make a ridiculously skilled pass into the high slot to Sheary. It worked to a tee.
“(It works) probably a handful of times (per season),” said Crosby. “That’s why you do them and that’s why everyone tries to work on those details on faceoffs because you never know when you’re going to use them.”
Crosby has always been next level in that department. He finished a ridiculous 17-for-24 in the faceoff dot on Wednesday and stands at 26-for-40 in the series.
“He gets away with it,” said Couture. “He’s Sidney Crosby. … He times them and they don’t kick him out for some reason probably because of who he is.”
“Maybe he should have been kicked out (on the winning goal),” added Vlasic. “It took a while to get into the faceoff. But what do I know?”
Crosby has played his way right into the Conn Smythe conversation with an elevated performance in the Eastern Conference final and Stanley Cup final. He’s been a leader in every sense of the word.
To watch him play in these tight games where mistakes are magnified is to see a player doing things the right way. No cheating for chances. Constantly turning another cheek, as he did when Joe Thornton knocked his helmet off in Game 2 and cross-checked him in the back.
“He’s just been a horse out there,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s a threat every time he’s on the ice. He’s playing the game the right way. He plays a complete game, the full sheet. He wins faceoffs. He’s great on the puck battles. He can defend.
“For me right now, I think he’s inspiring for our group.”
That last point is particularly important because the real strength of these Penguins is how they play as a team. We before me.
They’ve consistently rolled four lines that can play with pace and it clearly took the Sharks out of their comfort zone at Consol Energy Center.
San Jose will almost certainly take it to another level when it gets back on home ice, but winning four of the next five games promises to be a tall order. You can expect them to accentuate the positives – Tomas Hertl hit two posts in Game 2 while Chris Tierney hit a crossbar – before the puck drops on Saturday.
“I think we’ll hold off on the funeral,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “We have a lot of hockey left to play.”
Ultimately, they will have to find some kind of answer for Crosby.
He’s now two wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup for a second time and will be charging hard towards the finish. The veteran Penguins have learned to expect it.
“When he came into the league he was seen as a playmaker,” said Letang. “After that he worked on his shot and he was a 50-goal scorer. After that he worked on his draws and now he’s over 50-something per cent on faceoffs.
“He works on every detail and that’s why we’re a successful team.”
In addition to an elite-level talent, he can also add soothsayer to his resume.
Sheary said the winning goal came on a play unlike any other the Penguins usually run. He was simply following Crosby’s orders when he found an open area and waited for the pass.
“Sid came up to me before the draw and told me to line up on the wall,” said Sheary. “We hadn’t really done that before. He said he’s going to win it back and Tanger is going to find me in the soft area there. Found it pretty perfectly.”
Just as the captain drew it up.