Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post recently tweeted the numbers for Alex Ovechkin(notes) and Sidney Crosby(notes) through their respective six games against the Montreal Canadiens in the postseason, in an effort to either defend Ovechkin or diminish Crosby or a little of both:
"Through six games, Crosby and Ovechkin both were 3-3 vs. the Habs. Crosby has five points and is a +1. Ovi had nine points and was a +5."
The comparisons are inevitable now that Crosby's series has reached the same win-or-go-home moment with the upstart Habs as Ovechkin's Washington Capitals did in Round 1. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun wrote last week that: "If the rival Pens also go down to the same underdog Canadiens, the Caps' first-round stunner suddenly gets easier to digest if you're a Washington fan."
But what if you're a Penguins fan? What if, in this Game 7, the captain can't overcome the Montreal defense that's managed to stifle him through six games when it's been at full strength -- as it could be again for the series finale.
Victory or defeat is rarely about one player in the NHL, and almost never about one forward of 12 on the bench. But this is, yet again, Sidney's Moment: Series on the line, frustrations at the forefront, his childhood team trying to eliminate his championship team, while his home nation sells out an empty building to cheer against him.
Can Crosby lead the Penguins to the conference finals?
From Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun, a look back at how Montreal fans have turned on The Kid and Crosby's frustrations at the end of Game 6:
The hockey-mad fans of Montreal are ready to disown Crosby as the Canadiens have forced the high drama of Game 7 against the Penguins here Wednesday night. And surely some of the shine has waned for those who follow the Senators, the Penguins' first-round victims.
Others who have loved the Kid unconditionally may take pause these days, depending on whether they buy into the premise that he gets too many calls or complains about the ones he doesn't get.
Such is the scrutiny on Crosby that a minor incident at the end of Game 6, in which he gave the Habs' Tomas Plekanec(notes) a firm but hardly fierce cross-check, has been made into the latest example of his supposed "suckiness."
Ranking the violent plays in any post-season game, this one would have trouble cracking the top 50. But when your name is Sidney Crosby, it is going to be a topic of deep and serious discussion.
From Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star, on whether Crosby can conquer the Habs:
Crosby was asked by a Pittsburgh reporter if history might repeat itself with another deciding goal, this time in Game 7.
"I hope, yeah, I hope so. There's one game left. It's the biggest one yet. So yeah . . .," he said after a game in which he finally beat sensational Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak(notes). "It was nice to see one go in. You work so hard to get your chances."
When Crosby met the media here Tuesday, wearing his usual sweat-stained Penguins hat, it would be unfair to call him combative -- the Pittsburgh captain is remarkably patient with reporters -- but he was dismissive of suggestions that he was acting out of frustration when he went after Tomas Plekanec and Josh Gorges(notes) at game's end Monday. And he was equally unimpressed by rumblings that his team must be underachieving since lowly, eighth-seed Montreal has pushed it to a lose-and-go-home seventh game. He called Game 7 a chance to "see what you're made of," a challenge he seemed to relish.
That initial reference to the Olympics recalls this Eric Duhatschek column from the Globe & Mail asking if Crosby (and Evgeni Malkin(notes)) have simply worn down against the Habs:
When will the tank register empty? One series in, Crosby was poised to threaten Wayne Gretzky's all-time single-season playoff points total, clobbering the Ottawa Senators practically single-handedly. Now? Against the bend-but-don't-break Canadiens and coach Jacques Martin's smothering defensive tactics, he has been unable to match that performance, especially in even-strength situations.
Fatigue at this time of year is a highly charged subject, and one that both coach Dan Bylsma and Crosby dismiss out of hand. "I don't sense a fatigue from our team in terms of our mentality or what we have to go through," Bylsma said. Instead, he put the Penguins' scoring woes down to facing Montreal, a team that is "playing really well and defending really well. We are trying to get to our game and fight and scratch and claw."
Montreal is tenacious, for sure. But so is Crosby, and often in big games. Gill, Subban, Spacek, Gorges ... the challenge is overcoming those names and the Canadiens' system.
For all the additional intrigue in the game because of culture and history and what happened in the first round to his rival, this is one of the more definitive games of Sid's career.
Tuesday night already saw one gold medal hero maligned in an elimination loss in Vancouver; what will the reaction be if Crosby is shut down and Montreal advances?