NASHVILLE – In hindsight, P.K. Subban probably should have avoided poking the bear and dragging Sidney Crosby into ListerineGate.
The great ones don’t need extra motivation. But they do latch onto idiocy to drive them harder, and the Pittsburgh Penguins star was a different player in Games 4, 5 and 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, maybe not so coincidentally after the Nashville Predators defenseman accused Crosby of saying on the ice that Subban had bad breath.
Not only did the allegation appear to have been invented, Crosby didn’t love answering questions about such a juvenile topic the next day. Maybe it would have occurred anyway, but Crosby was terrific the final three games in helping lead Pittsburgh to back-to-back titles and a third Cup as captain.
“We can talk about him in those top two, three, four guys of all time. He’s a special player,” Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford said on the ice after the Penguins became the NHL’s first repeat champs since 1998. “He’s won three Cups. And he comes up big, two Conn Smythe trophies back to back. He’s in that group of guys now for me.”
Crosby hates talking about his legacy. But in the past 365 days alone, he won World Cup of Hockey championship and MVP, was named one of the 100 Greatest Players of all time, won two Stanley Cups and became the third player in history to win consecutive playoff MVP’s (Bernie Parent and Mario Lemieux). He became the first player since Wayne Gretzky in 1986-87 to lead the NHL in goals and win a Cup, and he’s a finalist for both the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) and Ted Lindsay Award (NHL’s best player as voted by his fellow players).
This is a player who’s already led the NHL in scoring twice, has won three Ted Lindsay Awards, two Hart Trophies, two Mark Messier Leadership Awards and two Olympic gold medals.
And he is not yet 30.
“He’s the best player in the world, there’s no question about it,” veteran Matt Cullen said. “The way he rises up to the challenge when the stakes are highest, it’s just fun to see. He just drives our engine here. It’s just been an honor playing with him the last two years.”
Similarly, coach Mike Sullivan said, “I would have to believe that with what Sid has been able to accomplish in his career to this point would put him in the company of the all-time greats. You know, he’s arguably the best player of his generation, and he’s a guy that just knows how to win. And so he’s done it in all different venues, whether it be the NHL and Stanley Cups to the World Cup to the Olympics. And he’s a player that — and I believe this, what separates him from others is his work ethic and his willingness to do what it takes to be the very best.
“I don’t know that I’ve been around a hockey player that has the work ethic that Sid has. So he has a willingness to go the extra mile, to control what he can, to be the very best, and he cares so much for this team and this organization and helping us win.”
What drives Crosby to keep going?
“This feeling right now,” Crosby said after Sunday’s win. “You can’t match this. This is what it’s all about, and to be able to share that with a group of guys, and a lot of them guys that you’ve played a long time with and understand how difficult it is and what you’ve had to go through and that kind of thing, to share it with family and friends, you know, is just — that’s what it’s about.
“You have a small window to play and to have a career, and I feel fortunate, but I also understand how difficult it is, so you just want to try to make the best of it.”
Crosby is clearly excited he gets to do it with Evgeni Malkin, who led the NHL in playoff scoring with 28 points — one more than Crosby.
“You’d think that Geno can get in the top 100, wouldn’t you?” Rutherford said. “Maybe we can vote again and get him in the top 101 this year. I’ll just leave that alone for now, but it’s so disappointing for me.”
Added Sullivan, “I really believe in just my time here with both guys, they’ve grown to be appreciative for one another and how they help each other have success and this team. They’re two players of a very select few in the league that singlehandedly have an ability to change the outcomes of games. That’s how good they are.”