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Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray: The Kid and the kid quiet critics

TAMPA, Fla. – Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray sat together in front of microphones after the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Game 6 victory at the Tampa Bay Lightning. One is The Kid, despite being 28 years old, hat turned forward. The other is the kid, turning 22 on Wednesday, hat turned backward. 

Both answered their doubters and critics in their own way, willing the Eastern Conference Final to a Game 7 on Thursday night with a 5-2 win. 

Crosby scored a goal and assisted on another in Game 6 after going scoreless in the previous two losses to the Lightning. His effort’s been questioned by television analysts. His ability to carry his team to victory has been questioned by sports columnists. There was even a call for his captaincy to be reconsidered after their Game 6 overtime loss.

But Crosby came through.

“He's exceptional,” said forward Matt Cullen, “and that was an unbelievable goal.”

This will be Crosby’s first Game 7 since 2014, a 2-1 semifinal loss to the New York Rangers in which he didn’t tally a point – a loss that cost the jobs of both coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero.

"I think that you go through different experiences, and you realize how hard it is to get these kind of opportunities,” said Crosby. “As a group, we've been through a lot and want to make the most of this opportunity.”

Crosby made the most of his in Game 6, as his second-period goal was practically the difference in the 5-2 game – the Lightning rallied for two goals in the third, but couldn’t get that third one.

In a series where Crosby’s narrative seems to change every other game, he took his coach’s pregame advice and embraced the moment.

“These are the types of circumstances where you have an opportunity to write your own story, and that's what we wanted to do,” said Sullivan. “There's certain things that go on out there that you can't control, but what you can control is your attitude, your determination, your work ethic, your never-say-die mindset.”

Sullivan’s counterpart, Jon Cooper, wasn’t ready to credit the Penguins stars with the victory. “All their players pretty much played better than all our players for 40 minutes. All  our players played probably better than them for 20 minutes. That's it. Can't sit here and say one star played better than the other, no,” he said.

According to Chris Kunitz, one player played better than every other in Game 5: “Our goaltender was our best player tonight.”

Murray made 28 saves for the Penguins, playing at his best when he was peppered with 19 shots in those last 20 minutes.

For the rookie, it was a performance that indirectly answered the doubts of the Penguins’ coaching staff, which benched him for Game 5 after he was pulled following four goals in 40 minutes of Game 4 in Tampa.

Marc-Andre Fleury got the Game 5 start, as Sullivan said he gave the Penguins the best chance to win.  After his subpar night helped cost the Penguins a victory, Sullivan turned back to Murray for Game 6, saying the rookie now gave them the best chance to win.

“That's out of my control, I think. So that's 100 percent the coach's decision, and he's going to make the decision he thinks is going to give us the best chance to win.  It's not my job to worry about his decision. It's my job to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete,” said Murray. 

Did the game on the bench help clear his head after getting yanked in Game 4?

"I don't know. I don't think it made much of a difference, to be honest. It's just the cards that we're dealt, I guess, and I thought I handled it pretty well,” he said.

They guy who benched him had nothing but love for Murray’s Game 6 performance.

"He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete,” said Sullivan. “That's usually an attribute that takes -- it takes -- usually it takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Or as Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist put it, “He’s 21 years old but he plays like he's 30. Can't say enough about him.”

It was Murray’s 10th win the playoffs, joining Ken Dryden and Mike Vernon as the only other goalies since 1968 to win 10 playoff games before he won 10 regular season games. 

“He's a real hard competitor, and I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment and not get overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding him,” said Sullivan.

Sounds like something that might come in handy in a Game 7.

As Crosby and Murray answered questions about their Game 6 win, one couldn’t help but think about the Penguins captain’s past – all the struggles, the injuries, the criticisms and the missed opportunities since he helped lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup as a 21 year old.

And one couldn’t help but think about the 21-year-old Penguins goaltender’s future, as Matt Murray goes from blue-chip prospect to netminder of the future in Pittsburgh.

But mostly, one couldn't help but consider the present: Crosby and Murray, The Kid and the kid, helping to push their team back from the brink and into a Game 7, for the right to play for the Stanley Cup.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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