Sidney Crosby wins faceoff and sets up OT goal exactly as he planned it

ByScott Burnside ESPN logo
Thursday, June 2, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- It's almost too ridiculous to be true.

And if the story didn't have Sidney Crosby as its focal point, it might well be the stuff of fancy, a kind of Stanley Cup playoffs fable.

But there he was, the Pittsburgh Penguins captain gathering his teammates before a faceoff in the early moments of overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. Crosby told Sheary to move from his normal position on the draw to the boards. He explained that he was going to win the draw back to defenseman Kris Letang and then Letang was going to give Sheary a pass in the middle of the ice, where the San Jose Sharks weren't likely to expect him to be.

Conor Sheary followed the instructions. It's Crosby, right? And Crosby won the draw and Letang feeds Sheary, who ripped home the game-winner.

Sheary joked after that the only thing Crosby did not detail for him was how he was going to find the back of the net at the end of the play.

The 2-1 win gives the Penguins a 2-0 series lead with Games 3 and 4 in San Jose on Saturday and Monday.

But the manner in which the Penguins won this game was their postseason in a nutshell.

Crosby, the maestro, directing traffic, moving the pieces as though a chess master.

Was it a surprise he won the crucial faceoff?

Probably not. He was one of a handful of guys skating on Tuesday at an optional practice at the Penguins' practice facility and part of the time was spent working on the draw.

"He's just been a horse out there," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.

"For me right now, I think he's inspiring for our group," the coach said. "I know our players recognize the effort that he's putting in. You can see it in his body language. He's excited about this opportunity that we have."

In Game 2, Crosby did not score but he did win 17 of 24 faceoffs, including the game's biggest that earned him a secondary assist on the winner. He is 26-for-40 in the faceoff circle through the first two games of the series.

It's an edge that irks some San Jose Sharks.

"He cheats," Couture said. "He gets away with it. He's Sidney Crosby."

How so?

"He times them and they don't kick him out for some reason, probably because of who he is," Couture complained.

Cheating or not, it was Crosby's vision of the game that set the stage for the dramatic ending to Game 2.

He explained that they'd tried to get a lot of quick shots and one-timers away from the point and he figured the Sharks would be coming hard trying to get a block and maybe an odd-man rush the other way.

So he audibled.

When he saw where the line of questioning was going, Crosby tried to downplay the instant mythology of the moment by joking that he usually called 25 faceoff plays a night and he was wrong on 24 on Wednesday.

Nice try.

But it's one thing to call the play, it's another to have it work out to perfection.

"It's one of those things -- guys have to execute," Crosby explained. "Usually the center kind of calls the play and I think those guys deserve a lot more credit than me."

On this night it was Sheary, less than a week away from his 24th birthday, who provided the crucial execution. It marked the second consecutive game in which Sheary has scored.

He is part of a cadre of youngsters who joined the team midway through the season from the team's American Hockey League affiliate and who continue to produce on a seemingly nightly basis for a Penguins team now two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

"It's awesome. I know what he's feeling and it's awesome," said fellow rookie Bryan Rust, who scored both goals in the Penguins' Game 7 victory in the Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning and then scored the first goal in Game 1 of the Cup finals.

"He's going to get a jillion texts and he's going to have a lot of fun tonight," Rust said. "It's a special feeling for him and being along the ride with him kind of the whole second half of the year, it's fun to see him have such success."

If there has been criticism of the Penguins since their Stanley Cup win in 2009, it has been a lack of homegrown depth. But you can't just conjure depth, it has to be nurtured and it has to evolve.

Sheary, for instance, has played much of the time with Crosby but admitted he had to learn not to worry too much about the fact his linemate is one of the greatest players in the game.

"The first time I got on his line, he told me I was there for a reason, I was playing with him for a reason, don't look off a shot to make a pass to him," Sheary said. "Even though he says that, it's a little hard to get used to."

Now, though, Sheary insisted he views Crosby as just another teammate and linemate.

"I'm comfortable playing with him," Sheary said.

Don't doubt that a bit.

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