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Sidney Crosby silences critics, cements legacy with 2nd Stanley Cup

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup and teammates in the locker room after winning Game 6 of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. The Penguins won the game 3-1 and the series 4-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Remember when Sidney Crosby was done?

When think-pieces about this offensive production were being written after a month of this season? How his legacy had crumbled? How he was a coach-killer? How the Penguins should have offered him in a trade for Connor McDavid

No? Well, you know who does remember those takes?

Sidney Crosby.

“It’s tough not to see all of that. Tough not to. But he’s a strong character guy,” said Bill Guerin, who won a Stanley Cup as Crosby’s teammate and how again as his assistant general manager.

He wasn’t done. Not by any definition or measure. He had 19 points in 24 playoff games in leading the Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history and second on his watch. But it wasn’t the offensive output that earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy – it was the sheer will he exhibited on every shift, the ferocity of his determination, the intangible leadership that can’t be quantified but is universally understood to have been a difference in the Final and most of the previous three rounds.

Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for Crosby’s previous Stanley Cup, and is counted among the captain’s closest friends on the team. “His maturity has grown since the last Cup. He was able to calm everybody down. And still lead by his work ethic,” he said.

But there was something else beyond leadership and production for Sid. There was a desperation. It had been seven years since the first Cup. Long years. Years filled with dashed expectations and catastrophic injuries and, after one second-round exit, a total house cleaning in Pittsburgh's management.

The Penguins that remained from that 2009 Stanley Cup team were spoiled, and were the first to admit so. It wasn't always going to be like that. Getting back proved a formidable task.

“We all know how tough it is to get back to the Final, to have a shot and then win it. Sid realized that, too,” said Fleury.

Crosby said he appreciates this championship more than the first because of that drought. “At a young age, going back-to-back like we did, you just think it's going to be an annual thing,” he said of the team’s two conference titles. “With the core we have, you think everyone's going to stay together, the team's not going to change. But it does. That's kind of the reality of playing hockey. There's turnover, things change, guys move on, different coaches. There's so much change.”

Even in a single season.

Like adding Kessel, Hagelin, Bonino, Rust, Sheary, Daley, Murray, Fehr, Schultz, Cullen and Sullivan to the roster in the span of a year. 

"It's not easy to throw a bunch of guys together and develop that chemistry, that trust. It doesn't happen overnight,” said Crosby. “When you look at the group, how many new players we brought in, it was pretty special what we were able to do.”

According to GM Jim Rutherford, the reason the Penguins passed that chemistry test this season was Crosby.

“He’s really a great leader,” he said. “Everybody judges Sid on his points and how many goals he gets and all of that. But he’s really an all-around player. He plays in all zones of the rink. He leads by example. But he does things quietly.”

Like, for example, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy without scoring a goal in six games. (He had four assists, including two in Game 6.)

“I've said all along here through the course of the playoffs, he's deserving of the Conn Smythe,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “His numbers don't indicate the impact he had on helping this team win, or the impact he had on a game-to-game basis.

“I could tell as we went through this post-season that he knew that our team had something special. He was going to will this thing.”

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 12: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup in the locker room after winning Game 6 of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on June 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. The Penguins won the game 3-1 and the series 4-2. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

When Sidney Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head, he said he wasn’t thinking about 2009. He was thinking about 2010 through 2016.

“It's not easy to get here. Having won seven years ago at a young age, you probably take it for granted a little bit. You don't think you do at the time, but it's not easy to get to this point,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy every second of it.”

So now we can expect a new run of stories, think-pieces and narratives about Sidney Crosby and his legacy. Like, for example, how at 28 years old he’s the only player in the history of the National Hockey League to have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal, a world junior championship, a IIHF world championship, a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy.

“It’s some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play. It really is. He played winning hockey. It wasn’t just about the points. It was about winning games,” said Guerin. 

That’s Sid’s legacy.

Sid wins. 

--

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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