When you’re 21 and you’ve just won the Stanley Cup, while becoming the youngest player to captain a Stanley Cup-winning team, you think it’s easy and you’ll be back in no time. Especially when you’re 21 and it’s your second consecutive Cup Finals appearance.
This was Sidney Crosby in 2009.
Now at age 28, Crosby is back in the Finals and on the edge of raising the Cup for the second time in his career. Those seven years must seem like a lifetime ago to him.
For Penguins fans, the tale is well-known by this point. Crosby was in the midst of his finest season during the 2010-11 campaign, with 32 goals and 65 points through the first 39 games. Then the Winter Classic happened on January 1st of 2011 and David Steckel of the Capitals delivered this elbow to the unsuspecting head of Sidney Crosby. Concussions were still a grey area back then in the NHL, so Crosby was right out on the ice just four days later against the Lightning. Victor Hedman finished his check against Crosby and put him face first into the glass. That would be the last game Crosby would play that season.
He wouldn’t return until November of the 2011-12 season and then could only go for a couple of weeks until being forced to sit out until March 2012 with concussion symptoms. The first half of the 2012-13 season was lost due to the lockout and then when NHL play resumed in January, Crosby was cruising along until getting a fractured jaw from teammate Brooks Orpik’s shot in March.
The two seasons prior to this one, Crosby has been relatively healthy, playing in 80 and 77 games, respectively. But those seasons ended prematurely, thanks to Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. His leadership, his future, his legacy were all questioned and hanging in the balance.
Now all the time spent alone in a dark and quiet room to counterbalance the post-concussion syndrome symptoms is on the verge of melting into the past. The time coping with a fractured jaw and a never-quite revealed thumb/wrist injury can be washed away like sand during rising tide.
Crosby has been destined for greatness since becoming a teenager. For some time in recent years, there were legitimate questions on whether his career was going to be filed into the “what if” category of careers, much like what happened to Eric Lindros and his concussion issues. But now, if Crosby can raise the Cup tonight in front of a rabid home crowd at Consol, his career will be justified and his place in Penguins lore will be cemented.
It’s been a different postseason for Crosby this year. In the 2008 and 2009 Cup Finals, he was much more of an offensive conduit with 27 points in 20 games and 31 points in 24 games in those back-to-back appearances. This postseason, he has “just” 17 points in 22 games with only 6 goals. But Crosby’s contributions are more subtle and woven into the fabric of this team this year. He wins faceoffs, he drives possession, he backchecks. He’s a captain.
He’s had his moments with multiple game-winning goals, including an overtime goal against the Lightning back on May 16th, but hasn’t had that awe-inspiring series. Clearly, he was a man possessed the first two games against the Sharks this series, but it still resulted in just two assists. There hasn’t been a signature moment from him.
Yet. Perhaps tonight, when the Penguins hopefully close it out and raise the Cup, Crosby will get a chance to shine. After all the trials and tribulations that he’s been through over the last seven years, he deserves it.