WASHINGTON – For a guy who supposedly shies from the limelight, Sidney Crosby was as good as could be in the first Game 7 of his career.
The rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins were pretty close to perfect, too.
Crosby scored twice to raise his NHL-leading playoff goal total to 12, his teammates shut down his big rival, Alex Ovechkin, most of the night, and the Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 6-2 on Wednesday to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive season.
Crosby “won’t say he likes front and center, the big stage, or anything like that,” Penguins forward Bill Guerin said. “But he really knows how to perform in it.”
That’s for sure.
Still, Crosby took no outward pleasure in coming out ahead in the second-round series otherwise known as Sid the Kid vs. Alexander the Great.
“It feels good, just because of the way the series went,” Crosby said, “not particularly because it was me and him.”
Everyone chipped in for the Penguins, from the stars to the second thoughts, from regular-season scoring leader Evgeni Malkin’s two assists, to fourth-line forward Craig Adams’ first goal in 42 career postseason games. Second-year defenseman Kris Letang, 38-year-old Guerin and Jordan Staal scored, too. Marc-Andre Fleury made 19 saves and didn’t allow a goal until his team led 5-0.
Indeed, plenty of Penguins considered the key moment Fleury’s nerve-testing save on two-time NHL goal leader Ovechkin on a breakaway just 3:01 into a still-scoreless game.
“That sends your team a message right away,” Crosby said. “It allows you to calm down a little.”
Even Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said, “It didn’t seem like we had a lot of emotion, but if Alex would have put that one in on the breakaway, who knows? It might have been a different story.”
Perhaps. But the Penguins dominated at both ends, and needed less than 22 1/2 minutes to forge a four-goal lead that moved Boudreau to switch goalies.
“We were surprised” at how easy things went, Malkin said.
Pittsburgh’s 4-3 series victory moves it closer to a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup finals, something the team last did in 1991 and 1992. The Penguins will face the Bruins or Hurricanes, who play their second-round Game 7 at Boston on Thursday night.
Thursday: Anaheim at Detroit, 4 p.m. (series tied 3-3); Carolina at Boston, 6:30 p.m. (series tied 3-3)