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Gorman: Sidney Crosby takes game to another level

| Friday, June 9, 2017, 12:33 a.m.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Sidney Crosby collects the puck in front of the goal against the Predators in the third period of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, June 8, 2017, at PPG Paints Arena.

From the start, Sidney Crosby showed Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final would be played on a different level.

That was a problem for the Nashville Predators, who learned the hard way what happens when the Penguins captain elevates his game into another stratosphere.

Crosby got three assists in the 6-0 victory Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena, setting a franchise record in the process, and even punked the Predators' star player.

“That's an indication of his leadership and his will to win,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has, and he's not taking anything for granted.”

On the opening shift, Crosby split Nashville defensemen Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. With Ellis holding on, Crosby drew a penalty and fired a shot that clinked off the left post.

The Penguins power play found its rhythm early, as Patric Hornqvist passed to Crosby, who set up Justin Schultz for a one-timer from the blue line for a 1-0 lead only 1:31 into the first period.

“From the opening shift, you could see his drive and his appetite to win,” Sullivan said. “When you can start a game that way, it puts a team on their heels and gives us momentum that allows us to build on.”

Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was rattled, and Crosby could sense it. When Rinne attempted a pass from behind the net, Crosby stole the puck and attempted a wraparound that missed the net. But it was only a matter of time. Bryan Rust would score on a backhand from the slot to make it 2-0.

Perhaps the most pivotal moment came at 18:28, when Crosby and Subban scuffled behind the Predators' net. The team's stars had been chirping and exchanging shots throughout the series, which escalated to an angry exchange late in Game 3.

This time, they got locked up after Subban lost his stick, and Crosby responded by repeatedly pounding Subban's helmet into the ice.

“I'd rather have the puck and be making plays,” Crosby said, “but I think that's just the nature of playoffs. Things get physical.”

Both players were penalized two minutes for holding, and it led to a four-on-four that saw Evgeni Malkin fire a one-timer for a 3-0 lead with 11 seconds left.

Crosby also had his water bottle end up on the ice, which he said slipped out of his grasp on the bench.

In the second period, Crosby set up Conor Sheary for a 4-0 lead at 1:19 and got a secondary assist on Phil Kessel's wrister that made it 5-0. It was Crosby's third assist, giving him 20 career points in the Stanley Cup Final to break a tie with Mario Lemieux for the club record.

It was that kind of night.

“You see it on the ice, but in talking with him and being around him you can see a different level of drive and commitment,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “When you have a guy that can elevate his play to that level, when he's that determined, it's fun. It's fun to see, fun to be a part of and it's easy to follow. He's our leader, on and off the ice, and he led.”

And there was nothing Nashville could do about it.

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

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