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Guerin is grateful, but so are the Penguins

| Thursday, May 28, 2009

For a guy who has seemingly got everything right since joining the Penguins about three months ago, right wing Bill Guerin had it all wrong Tuesday night.

"For a player my age (38) to be given that opportunity at this point in my career is really special," Guerin said of his connection with center Sidney Crosby. "I'm just trying to enjoy it."

Actually, it's Crosby who is most enjoying every second of this "Billy 'n Sid Show" — a ratings smash with the Pittsburgh demographic.

Since the Penguins acquired Guerin from the New York Islanders on March 4 at the trade deadline, Crosby has regained his previously held title as the planet's finest hockey player.

His 14 goals are tops in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he is tied with teammate Evgeni Malkin for the scoring lead at 28 points.

Oh, and the Penguins are again in the Stanley Cup final.

Guerin, with seven goals and a career-best 14 points in the postseason, has more than made the 2009 third-round draft pick the Penguins surrendered to land him appear a pittance.

"I credit (Guerin) for a lot of this," left wing Matt Cooke said Tuesday. "He's been very vocal throughout the playoffs, but ... he has a calming effect on this group.

"I think he has a calming effect on Sid."

As center Max Talbot said, those dark days before Guerin arrived "seem like another season."

The Penguins were 33-26-6 on March 5, and they had needed an 8-1-1 stretch under then-interim coach Dan Bylsma (hired Feb. 15) to reach that no-playoff-lock spot in the Eastern Conference.

Crosby, who had yet to play in three of four into a five-game road trip, had scored only 23 goals and recorded 79 points in 60 games when he stepped onto the ice at Florida's BankAtlantic Center to share a line for the first time with Guerin and left wing Chris Kunitz (acquired from Anaheim on Feb. 25).

The morning before that game against the Panthers — a pivotal playoff-positioning contest at the time — Guerin, a known cut-up over his 17 NHL seasons, targeted Crosby with a good-natured jab.

Defenseman Hal Gill, a previous teammate of Guerin's with Boston, described the scene as "typical Billy being Billy."

"He's pretty much the same guy around everybody," Gill said.

That would not change with Crosby, arguably the most recognizable athlete in his sport, who at 21 was already four years into a career that was predicted to save the NHL when he was 18.

However, by this point Crosby needed saving from public scrutiny of his leadership, peer criticism of his performance and pressure that accompanied serving as the face of an underachieving reigning Cup finalist.

"A lot of the blame for our struggles as a team fell at the feet of Sid," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Added center Jordan Staal: "Sid took a lot of bullets for us during the tough times, and there is no way that was any fun."

Now, with only 17 games remaining in a season still on the brink of disaster, Guerin was firing in Crosby's direction.

The way Crosby reacted to Guerin's well-intended comment — to this day, the exact words remain a mystery to dressing-room outsiders — would send a signal to teammates new and old.

"I laughed, because it was funny," Crosby said early in the playoffs of his reaction to Guerin's joke. "The guy is here a few minutes, and he's giving it to me. I couldn't believe it."

Believing Crosby's production since has not been easy. Including 17 playoff games, Crosby has scored 24 goals and recorded 52 points over 34 contests with Guerin, who has tallied 12 times to go with 26 points.

Guerin, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, said Tuesday he never doubted meshing with Crosby and the Penguins.

"Pretty early on I knew," he said, "and it's been great so far."

Billy 'n Sid Show

The Penguins have won 24 of 34 games since acquiring RW Bill Guerin at the NHL trade deadline on March 4. A big reason for that success is the boost Guerin has provided to C Sidney Crosby. A statistical look at Crosby this season with and without Guerin as his linemate:

Pre-Guerin — Category — Post-Guerin

60 — Games — 34

0.38 — Goals per — 0.71

1.32 — Points PER — 1.53

3 — Shots per — 3.30

24 — Multi-point games — 21

19 — Games without point — 5


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