Penguins' Crosby tabbed as Conn Smythe winner
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Some media members who declared Sidney Crosby a star in decline just six months ago deemed the Penguins captain the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday night.
Crosby claimed the Conn Smythe Trophy after the Penguins defeated San Jose, 3-1, in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. He finished without a goal and with just three assists in the series against the Sharks, but his ability to create scoring chances and shut down opponents' top lines in all four rounds resonated with the 18 voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. He totaled 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in the 24 playoff games.
“In the playoffs, it's tight, so there's not a lot of chances to be had,” Crosby said. “When there isn't, you can't be one-dimensional. You've got to make sure you're contributing in other ways. Whether that is creating momentum or drawing penalties or winning faceoffs — all those little details go a long way.
“There's more to winning games than just scoring goals. It feels great, and it's important. That's what our job is. But there's a lot of things that go into it. Just making sure that you don't sacrifice all those other things just to push for a goal here or there, that was the biggest thing, just sticking with it.”
Conn Smythe voters had an abundance of quality choices and no obvious, overwhelming candidate. Crosby, winger Phil Kessel, rookie goalie Matt Murray, center Nick Bonino and defenseman Kris Letang each delivered compelling performances.
Crosby, though unable to continue the torrid scoring pace he maintained in the regular season under coach Mike Sullivan, remained the critical cog in the Penguins' puck possession game. The frequency with which opponents chose to deploy their checking lines and top defensive pairs against the Penguins captain and his line allowed the trios centered by Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino to exploit favorable matchups elsewhere.
Kessel maintained his career postseason scoring pace as he delivered about a point per game. His 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) led the Penguins and caused much of the Canadian media that criticized him in Toronto for years to squirm and search for new ways to justify their stances on the winger.
Bonino combined with Kessel and winger Carl Hagelin to breathe life into the ‘HBK' line legend. Calculated and clever, he tallied 18 points, which tied for second among the Penguins, and served as the defensive conscience of the transition-happy trio. His versatility also made him the lone forward among the Penguins to average more than a minute per game on both the power play and penalty kill.
Murray stirred memories of Montreal legends Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden with his ability to win big playoff games. He finished with 15 wins, tied for the most by a rookie in league history. Only Roy had as many wins in fewer game appearances.
Letang became just the 17th player in the NHL to log more than 650 playoff ice-time minutes, which the league began tracking in 1997-98 season. And he did while handing the toughest defensive assignments and adjusting to a rotating cast of blue-line partners that included Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and, at last, Brian Dumoulin.
“We had trust in confidence that whoever it needed to be would make that big play, whether it was a goal or a save or a power play,” Crosby said. “There's so many guys who contributed. I look at this as a total team effort. I tried to work hard every night and do my job, just like every one else.”
Nothing appeared as cut and dry among these Penguins, a contrast to when Mario Lemieux claimed it in 1992 and 1991 with point totals of 34 points in 15 games and 44 points in 23 games, respectively. When Malkin won the award in 2009 after tallying 36 points (14 goals and 22 assists), Crosby presented a strong alternative with 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists).
But who won the Conn Smythe in 2009 wasn't on Crosby's mind in the minutes after Sunday's Game 6 win.
“I was just thinking about how hard it is to get to this point,” he said.
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.