Pitt's Grit: How Sid's Kids Captured The Cup
Some kids never grow up.
Others just need a little time.
At 21, Sidney "The kid" Crosby was finally old enough to legally drink Bud-Light from the Stanley Cup, but after a lopsided and downright embarrassing loss at the hands of the mighty Red Wings in game five, the burning question still remained: Is Sid man enough?
Having come from relative obscurity during the regular season, enduring some uninspiring stretches of hockey that eventually led to the firing of then head coach Michel Therrien and the hiring of minor league wizard Dan Bylsma, Crosby's Penguins were obviously not interested in taking the easy road to victory.
Crosby, more than any other Penguin player, had to answer for their shortcomings.
Questions about the 21-year-old appointed as the on-ice leader of the Penguins were not about his ability—his status as a hockey prodigy with a rare and other-worldly skill-set were known facts.
Whether or not he had that rare and ever so precious knack for infusing his whole team with a sense of belief as grand as the one he himself has possessed since childhood was another question entirely.
Things didn't look good for much of the season, until another kid (in coaching years) by the name of Bylsma came to lend a hand.
The Penguins, a rudderless ship for nearly sixty games of the regular season, suddenly set a course for higher ground as the post-season approached. With Bylsma at the helm, Crosby manned his watch vigilantly beside him, helping his teammates embrace the new coach's offensive philosophy and setting a stellar example on the ice.
The 38-year-old Bylsma and Crosby turned out to be the perfect recipe for success for the slow-starting Penguins.
The more difficult the circumstances that the Penguins faced this season, the better they seemed to play. And while Crosby was at the heart of it all on the ice, scoring a team-leading 15 goals over the course of the playoffs, it was his leadership that finally put the Pens over the top.
In games six and seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, against a daunting Red Wings squad, Pittsburgh called forth from its collective gut the type of grit that many thought only Detroit was capable of employing.
While the contests were close, a clear difference emerged between the two teams: Crosby's Penguins, as cliché as it sounds, would not be denied.
Every loose puck was pursued relentlessly, shots were blocked with uncanny ease, and the usually unstoppable power forwards and smooth skating d-men of hockeytown were shut down in a routine manner that would have been impossible to imagine after game five.
Teams don't achieve this type of two-way hockey nirvana without a charismatic and gutty leader wearing the "C."
When Crosby was injured in a collision with Johan Franzen in the second period of game seven, the Captain may have made the wisest decision of his whole career.
Realizing that he was not healthy enough to play at the high level necessary to help his team, the unselfish leader took a seat on the bench and sent the ultimate message of belief to his teammates.
It was one of those moments that had to be read between the lines. The lack of desperation from Crosby and the coaching staff added to the sense of belief that was growing in the other nineteen players on the bench.
It was the ultimate team gesture, and the Penguins responded by holding off a massive Detroit surge that finally ended with Marc-Andre Fleury's highlight reel of saves in the final seconds.
Game seven hero, Maxime Talbot, was quick to deflect any praise of his effort toward his other teammates, most notably Crosby.
“He is our team,” said Talbot, who scored both Penguins goals in the cup clinching game.
“He is the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And I think everybody knows that. If they don’t, well, I’m telling you: He is our leader. What he brings every day to the rink is special. The pressure he had to go through to become that player is really special."
Sid the kid is now the youngest player to ever captain a team to a Stanley Cup. It used to be Wayne Gretzky.
The kid is now a man.
He can have his Bud Light and drink it too. And maybe a little champagne to boot.
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