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Gorman: Counting on more milestone moments from Crosby

| Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, 10:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his 1,000th point against the Jets in the first period Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

Sidney Crosby had not yet scored his 1,000th NHL point when the conversation shifted to the future.

Now that Sid the Kid was closing in on the milestone before his 30th birthday, did it give him a greater appreciation for the accomplishments of the NHL's all-time scoring leaders?

“As a player, you appreciate when you see some of those big numbers how hard it is,” Crosby said before a 4-3 win over Winnipeg on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena — a victory he facilitated with an overtime goal. “You have a lot of respect for the guys who are getting those kind of numbers, but I don't try to compare or anything like that.”

The 1,000th point came on a play that was quintessential Crosby: He fought off Blake Wheeler for the puck, spun sharply and slid a pass to Chris Kunitz in the slot for a 2-0 lead at 6 minutes, 28 seconds of the first period.

The best part isn't that Crosby became the 86th player in league history to cross the 1,000-point threshold. It's that he did it on home ice in front of Penguins fans.

We became accustomed to witnessing these milestone moments, with Paul Coffey, Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Joey Mullen and Jaromir Jagr scoring their 1,000th points while with the Penguins.

But this was the biggest since Lemieux reached 1,000 assists in February 2003. As Lemieux approached that mark, I asked the Penguins co-owner how much finishing among the NHL's all-time scorers meant to his legacy.

Lemieux was surprisingly candid, saying the only record he had a shot to break was Wayne Gretzky's 894 goals.

“That's just a by-product of me playing at a high level for most of my career,” Lemieux said. “Those numbers are nice, but the longer I play, the higher they're going to get.”

Lemieux, of course, already had six scoring titles, two Stanley Cup championships and was a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He had returned from retirement and was in the twilight of a career that produced 1,723 points, so he possessed a unique perspective.

Lemieux scored 100 points in his first six seasons before injuries and illness interrupted, Crosby in four of his first five before he was concussed.

Crosby is still in his prime, still the league's leading goal scorer and again the world's greatest player. He's too caught up in the moment to truly appreciate the achievement, as it's merely a means to an end to his goal of winning.

So, Crosby can't comprehend playing into his 40s, like teammate Matt Cullen — let alone the longevity of Jagr, who scored his 1,900th NHL point Wednesday, his 45th birthday.

“That's an amazing accomplishment, but, at the same time, you play the game to win,” Crosby said. “You want to be productive. You want to be at your best. If that means producing, that's great, but I don't think that's something that's necessarily a driving force for me when I'm training in the summer, getting ready for the season. I want to produce, but I want to win. Points are kind of a product of that, but that's not what you play for.”

When asked if his two Stanley Cup titles were more rewarding, Crosby stopped short of saying so.

“That's what you play for. You dream of playing in the NHL. You dream of winning the Stanley Cup,” he said. “Growing up, you don't necessarily think you're going to get 1,000 points. It's something that's an opportunity and you're happy to be in this position, but that's what you play for.”

Where Lemieux admitted to peeking at the NHL's career scoring leaders late in his career, Crosby claims not to know where the game's greats rank. His childhood idols, Steve Yzerman (seventh place, 1,755 points) and Joe Sakic (ninth, 1,641) sandwich Lemieux on the top 10.

The prospect of playing long enough to score another 700-plus points was almost as unimaginable to the Penguins captain as the possibility that he would regain his status as the game's greatest after missing the majority of two seasons.

Of course, Crosby knows that his mentality, as well as his motivation, could change in the coming years.

Lemieux congratulated Crosby, saying in a statement, “I'm sure there are plenty more (points) coming.”

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan believes the 1,000-point milestone is as much a reflection of a player's character as it is his competitiveness — both traits that could continue into Crosby's 30s.

“I think what allows players to evolve with the game and play into their elder years is their hockey IQ. It makes up for a lot,” Sullivan said. “Sid's still a young. He's still got legs in him. From my experience being around him, he's an elite player, but what separates Sid from other players is just his ability to create offense in different ways.

“He can beat you with his speed game. He can beat you with a power game or a finesse game. He passes the puck as well as he scores. He's adaptable. He can play with whoever we put him with. He has the ability to adapt and make his line effective. He's just an elite player in every aspect of the game.”

An elite player who has joined an exclusive club. It's what we have come to expect of Crosby, who has gone from Sid the Kid to a man of milestone moments.

This one was grand.

Hopefully, more will follow.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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