TAMPA, Fla. — When Sidney Crosby tied Mario Lemieux for the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise record with 915 career games played Thursday night, it was a bit of a bittersweet occasion.
On one hand, it was a moment for Penguins fans to savor. They’ve been able to witness each and every game played by two of the greatest talents the game has ever known.
“I’m happy that I’ve been in Pittsburgh this long,” Crosby said Friday. “You never know when you’re drafted by a team and there’s high expectations. You want to be part of it for your career, but you never know how it’s going to work out. The fact that I went to Pittsburgh, I think I just appreciate that. The fact that I’ve been able to share a lot of those games with a core group of guys, too, that’s nice to be able to share that with them.
“Just want to play as many as I can.”
On the other hand, it conjures up visions of what might have been. How many championships could have been won and scoring records shattered if both superstars had remained relatively healthy throughout their careers?
Lemieux didn’t hit 915 games until age 40.
“He did so much in not even close to the amount of games he could have played,” Crosby said.
Crosby has missed 171 games in his career, mostly because of concussion-related problems at the start of this decade.
“I feel like it could have been that high number of games at this point,” the 31-year-old Crosby said. “I look at it both ways, but I think you definitely gain an appreciation for playing the game and all that comes with it.”
The durability Crosby has shown since overcoming the concussion issues is probably one of the more underrated parts of his game. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, he has missed only 19 games, an average of about three per year.
“It’s a testament to his fitness level,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s not like he plays on the perimeter. He’s a guy that plays in the traffic and the dirty areas as much as anyone in the league. He’s great at it. I think that’s where he plays his best hockey. He creates so many opportunities in the traffic.
“I’ve never been around a guy that takes care of himself and prides himself on his off-ice training and how he lives his life. He’s just a driven athlete, and he controls all those controllables off the ice. I think that’s what allows him to play the game he can play. He’s obviously a gifted player. He’s an elite player in that regard, but when you combine that with his work ethic and his willingness to go the extra mile to do certain things that most players quite honestly aren’t willing to do, I think that’s what separates Sid from others.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.