But guys do get tired, especially when you have two players each only playing two minutes a night.
It was the biggest game of the year for the blue and white, and they played that way all night. A win against an elite team would have been a nice jumpstart after a tough game in Winnipeg. They gave what they had and just couldn’t quite close the deal at the end. And there was one player who turned the tide for the Penguins.
There’s nothing I can really say about Sidney Crosby that will be something you haven’t heard before or seen yourself over the last few years. He’s that skilled, that smart, that good.
While it’s always difficult to say any one player is “better” than everyone else in the league, if anyone is, it’s the still young Penguins forward.
But the one thing I wanted to share after watching Sid take on the Leafs a couple of times within the last week is this: every once in a while there is a player on an opposing team that, when they are on the ice, you have a sense of fear. You’re afraid of what they can do with the puck. You know that if they get any space at all, they just might score a goal or set one up. They control the game like no one else does.
When I was a little kid in the very early 1960s, that “fear factor” hit me whenever the Leafs were facing certain teams and Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and (later) Bobby Orr were on the ice. I was such a devout little Leaf fan that whenever Howe was on the ice—and I’d be listening on the radio or watching on our little old black and white TV—I’d be so nervous I would shake a bit until Howe was off the ice. I knew what Howe could do and I just couldn’t relax while he was on the ice.
It was the same, only worse, with Orr (right). He was so fast, so strong at both ends of the ice and such a remarkable player that he literally controlled the flow of the game. Trying to get the puck away from Orr was…well, you just couldn’t do it. (He must have been the best ‘keep away’ guy in the world playing pond hockey as a kid…)
And while I certainly wouldn't try to suggest that Crosby is “as good” a player as Orr—who was the finest player I’ve ever seen—every time we get a chance to see Crosby in action, he does something that amazes us. On Thursday night, there was Crosby at the end of the first period dancing around the ice, no Leaf able to contain him. He came perilously close to setting up the game’s first goal.
Then in the second period, he tried to bat a puck out of the air to bank it in off Scrivens, the kind of spur-of-the-moment, instinctive play an Orr or Gretzky would try to make. They have the smarts and the ability not just to anticipate but also to think so quickly on their skates that they are constantly dangerous.
In the third, he made a no-look behind the back pass to Dupuis to set up the tying goal, and then made a crucial defensive play with his stick to prevent Kessel’s pass to van Riemsdyk, who was wide open and waiting at the side of the Penguin net. The play went up ice and the Kunitz set up what would prove to be the winner with two minutes left.
If he stays healthy, I don’t know where Crosby will land in people’s minds when it comes to the “best of all-time”. But I do know this: right now, he is as good as there is in the game. And whenever he is on the ice, I know where he is and it reminds me, as a Leaf fan, of what it was like years ago watching Howe, Hull, Orr and yes, Gretzky.
Maybe out there somewhere is a young Leaf fan that experiences that same sense of fan “dread” when Sid is on the ice that I did way back when.
If anyone can create that reaction nowadays, my guess is, it’s Crosby.