Image courtesy of Vice.com
Heading into Game 5, the Stanley Cup not only rested in the balance squared at two’s waiting for some team to take the proverbial “stranglehold” in the series – the Conn Smythe Trophy also sat waiting for some player (a star center, rookie sensation, or Finnish goaltender) to poach the award from still, likely, undecided voters.
The Pittsburgh Penguins dismantled, utterly sliced and diced the puck around Nashville skates at will in the offensive zone to the tune of a six nil drubbing to tighten their palms around the Predator’s necks 3-2 in the series. With the decisive victory, the Smythe race on Pittsburgh’s end narrowed to two players. Two players we’ve heard plenty about in the past decade.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are one of the best duos in NHL history. That might appear sensational in the tone of vast-exaggeration-after-a-monster-blowout but a loss at this point wouldn’t take that distinction away. The top two NHL playoff scorers are also the two favourites for playoff MVP in my mind; both commanding multi-dimensional lines that swing the biscuit around like the puck will melt the tape off their sticks if it lingers too long on the blade, both historically excellent centers with major pedigree and accolades and adulation.
Sidney Crosby has never played angrier than in Game 5. Crosby’s picking spots more than ever before, taking the big hit and not reacting, wrestling with Subban and likely overreacting. Crosby has always been chippy, sometimes to his detriment, just ask Marc Methot’s digits, but he’s never played like a bully before. Game 5 was a bully performance that championship teams have earned or found themselves acting as when they’ve been through the rigors of long series before; in this case Sidney Crosby’s fourth Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Combined with his grace in nearly scoring the game’s first goal, splitting between Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi not thirty seconds into the contest and his wonderful backhand dish to Conor Sheary rattling the backup Saros, it was a different Sidney Crosby with many of the same features. Perhaps a player with legacy on his mind. Or just the pleasure of knowing, affirming, that his team is the best in the world. Certainly, Crosby is angry. If nothing else than in the Ray Lewis “pissed-off-for-greatness” sense.
It’s easy to forget Crosby was again in career peril after a meeting with Matt Niskanen’s bludgeoning elbow in the second round. Since then, he’s been same old Sid as Jim Hughson might say.
With Evgeni Malkin, I think you get the favourite for the MVP. However, Geno could fall victim to the success syndrome of the Penguins. The most consistent forward during the postseason, his elite skill and size seems unphased by another deep playoff run. Maybe it he benefitted sitting out twenty contests with injury.
Regardless, questions were raised (while he still was the playoffs leading scorer) that he would have to pick up the load offensively with Crosby, apparently, concussed. The Pens won that Game 4 against Washington, Geno quiet, and as you know the Penguins survived the rest of the way against the Capitals. While I’m sure the absent Crosby was noticed, the Penguins are as well equipped to handle the loss of a superstar as any team. Like when Malkin won the Art Ross in 2011-12 in Crosby’s absence, things were tickety-boo despite the difficult situation.
In Malkin’s personal agenda – the same agenda Crosby could subconsciously be after even though it’s frankly ridiculous – another Stanley Cup topped off with another Conn Smythe would prove to anyone in charge of the “Top 100 NHL Players of Ever” list that he, #71, belongs in that group, more so than many others who played before. It was silly he wasn’t included in the first place. If Pittsburgh wins, the tandem of Geno and Sid would have two Art Ross Trophy’s each, three Stanley Cups, three Hart’s, and a litany of international awards. Their personal and team successes draw natural comparisons to Pittsburgh’s other dynamic duo – Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
Though the verisimilitude of the four players isn’t close, the essence of how they are controlling the game is. And while there are several categories when comparing the two’s against each other that Lemieux/Jagr outgun them, the fact that Crosby/Malkin success had championships seven seasons apart with a repeat looming, is more than those stars or yesteryear mustered in their heyday.
So the Penguins win the game 6-0, one of the crux’s to another title and Crosby has three assists and Malkin a goal and an assist in easily the best game Pittsburgh’s played in weeks and the series has clarity for a moment and now you can run the stories about Nashville backs against the wall and how will they handle the pressure of elimination and all the rest (hopefully a think piece about Pekka Rinne’s mental state in regards to, well, whatever ails him in specific situations) but I’m very curious about Crosby and Malkin.
Obviously, it’s a home ice series. And, obviously, that has no bearing on this game unless the Predators win. But a waxing like that against the best defence corps in the league, home ice or not, is excellent. Excellent in ways makng your opponent go 37 minutes without a shot is excellent as well, bu you still have to win the game. Nashville has missed their chance and everything from here on in will be unchartered territory combined with having to do it against a poised Penguins squad. Pittsburgh won the cup in San Jose in Game 6 last season 3-1, I feel inclined to predict the same result in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Crosby won the Conn Smythe last season (Phil Kessel seemed equally deserving) but this season I hope it returns to Evgeni Malkin a player we have trouble reconciling outside of the shadow of the best player in the world.
And if Nashville comes back in sensational style to win the drink then I don’t know what the hell you’re going to do. Give it to Erik Karlsson I suppose.